Safe Laundry Guide
Researchers Discover Chemical Carcinogen in Popular Laundry Detergent Brands
Tide Total Care (P&G) - 55 ppm Cheer Bright Clean (P&G) - 20 ppm Woolite Complete (Reckitt Benckiser) - 1.3 ppm Dreft powdered (P&G) - ND Planet Ultra - 6 ppm ECOS (Earth Friendly Products) – ND Life Tree – ND Method Squeaky Green – ND Seventh Generation Free and Clear – ND
Ivory Snow (P&G) - 30 ppm
Tide Free (P&G) - 29 ppm
Purex Ultra (Dial Corp.) - 25 ppm
2x Ultra Gain (P&G) – 21 ppm
ERA (P&G) - 14 ppm
Arm & Hammer (Church & Dwight Co) - 5 ppm
2x Ultra Wisk (Sun Products Corp.) – 3.8 ppm
ALL (Unilever) – 0.6 ppm
Sun Burst Sunsational Scents (Sun Products Corp.) – ND
Mrs. Meyers - 1.5 ppm
Clorox Green Works – ND
Tide Total Care (P&G) - 55 ppm
Cheer Bright Clean (P&G) - 20 ppm
Woolite Complete (Reckitt Benckiser) - 1.3 ppm
Dreft powdered (P&G) - ND
Planet Ultra - 6 ppm
ECOS (Earth Friendly Products) – ND
Life Tree – ND
Method Squeaky Green – ND
Seventh Generation Free and Clear – ND
ppm = parts per million
ND = not detected
Nearly two-thirds of laundry detergents sold in America today are contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical called 1,4-dioxane, which is as potent a carcinogen as many chemical pesticides that have been banned for use around homes, according to a new study carried out by the Organic Consumers Association and Green Patriot Working Group under the direction and supervision of David Steinman, a leading consumer advocate and former representative of the public interest at the National Academy of Sciences.
Virtually every recognizable major brand of laundry detergent—particularly those from Procter & Gamble (P&G) and used by millions of homemakers—is contaminated with this cancer-causing chemical, according to the study results. Levels of the chemical were as high as 55 parts per million (ppm) in Tide from P&G and 25 ppm from Purex (Dial).
Only a few brands—most from the natural products industry—tested free or very low for this powerful cancer-causing substance. If P&G was the major manufacturer that tested highest, then its complete opposite must be the major natural products brand Earth Friendly Products whose detergent tested completely free of any traces of this dangerous chemical. In addition, Life Tree and Method tested free.
The health risk from 1,4-dioxane in laundry detergents has become a matter of considerable debate among public health experts and advocates. The same study group has also tested many other cosmetic and personal care products, as well as other types of household cleaning products for the presence of this chemical. High enough amounts were found throughout the testing that many companies have come under legal attack for poisoning consumers.
Clearly, the risk from its presence in children’s bubble baths, shampoos and adult products such as body wash seems obvious to the public—since the products are applied directly to the skin. In this case, under pressure by the
Dioxane appears in products as a result of a process called ethoxylation in which relatively harsh low-sudsing ingredients are combined with ethylene oxide, a known human carcinogen, in order to produce softer detergents that produce more suds. In this process, the ethylene oxide undergoes a slight modification and reappears in the product disguised as diethylene oxide, also known as 1,4-dioxane or simply dioxane. For many years, dioxane contamination was routinely overlooked as a serious concern by manufacturers and even our federal watchdog agencies. But recently, as a result of public pressure stemming from the OCA-Green Patriot Working Group studies, consumers have begun pressuring manufacturers to produce cleaner products.
Although many consumers visually associate dermal exposure through the skin and scalp via shampoos and bubble baths as an obvious and unnecessary risk to themselves and their children, in fact, the risk from laundry detergents, is more complex—and involves both immediate exposures and long-term consequences to our precious drinking water resources.
Dioxane is considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be an emerging threat to water supplies across the country. Towns as diverse as
Yet, even today, according to experts, trace levels appear in the water supply. This indicates that quite from the kidney dialysis manufacturing plant that was the source, other sources such as greywater systems that contain laundry detergents and personal care products also contribute to the dioxane contamination.
The reason it is being found at trace levels even after removal of the major source is that the water experts there are looking for it. Because it has been unknown, it hasn’t been tested for. Testing is costly and requires the most advanced technologies, not available to water districts routinely. In
According to researchers writing in the March 2008 issue of Chemosphere, “As a groundwater contaminant, 1,4-dioxane is of considerable concern because of its toxicity, refractory nature to degradation, and rapid migration within an aquifer.”
For example, only recently it was reported in April 2009 that 1,4-dioxane was found in the drinking water of residents of
The public advocacy groups have approached both P&G and Dial—and both companies have suggested that their products pose no problems. Yet,
Today, dioxane can be easily removed from the finished product through vacuum stripping or alternative ingredients can be used that do not require the ethoxy processing. But until P&G and Dial get serious about not polluting with dioxane, consumers would be better served to make one of their choices a brand without any dioxane. Laundry detergents should not only include performance and value, but leadership in environmental stewardship. These are clearly safer for families, workers, and our precious natural resources.