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Carcinogenic foaming agent found in dozens of shampoos, soaps, and personal care products
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Independent laboratory tests have identified 98 shampoos, soaps, and other personal care products sold by major national retailers that contain a chemical outlawed in California as a carcinogen.
The chemical, cocamide diethanolamine, known as cocamide DEA, is a chemically-modified form of coconut oil used as a thickener or foaming agent.
In June 2012 California listed the chemical under Proposition 65 as a known carcinogen based on an assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which classed cocamide DEA as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
The Oakland-based nonprofit Center for Environmental Health purchased the shampoos, soaps and other products and commissioned the lab to determine the total content of cocamide DEA they contained.
Products tested with high levels of cocamide DEA include shampoos sold under well-known brand names, such as Colgate Palmolive, Prell and Paul Mitchell, and many other little-known brands.
Products marketed for children and a product falsely labeled as organic were found to contain the chemical, in violation of California law.
"Most people believe that products sold in major stores are tested for safety, but consumers need to know that they could be doused with a cancer-causing chemical every time they shower or shampoo," said Michael Green, executive director of Center for Environmental Health.
As a result of this investigation, the Center for Environmental Health is suing four companies that make or sell products containing cocamide DEA.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alemeda County Superior Court, targets Walgreens, Lake Consumer Products, Vogue International, and Ultimark Products, makers of Prell shampoos.
In addition, the nonprofit has sent legal notices to more than 100 other companies that produce and/or sell cocamide DEA-tainted products to inform them that their products violate state law.
"We expect companies to take swift action to end this unnecessary risk to our children's and families' health," said Green. In addition to many brand name shampoos and personal care products, the tests identified cocamide DEA in store-brand products purchased at Walmart, Trader Joe's, Pharmaca, and Kohl's.
A store brand of children's bubble bath from Kmart and a children's shampoo/conditioner from Babies R Us were also found to contain cocamide DEA.
Falsely labeled organic products from Organic by Africa's Best also tested for high levels of the cancer-causing chemical. The Center for Environmental Health previously won a legal settlement with this company requiring it to end its use of phony organic labels.
Center for Environmental Health has purchased the shampoos and other products containing cocamide DEA at Bay Area locations of major retailers and from online retailers since June, and commissioned an independent lab to determine the total content of the chemical in the products.
In many cases, products contain more than 10,000 ppm cocamide DEA, and one shampoo tested at more than 200,000 ppm – that is 20 percent cocamide DEA.
The Center for Environmental Health works with major industries and thought leaders in green business to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices. For its efforts the center earned the "San Francisco Business Times" annual "Green Champion" in 2010.