U.S., Chemical Dumping Ground
I didn’t need eyeliner to widen my eyes during today’s panel on hazardous chemicals in consumer products at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference. The gist: “Products banned in Europe, Japan and even China are being dumped on the U.S. market,” said L.A. Times reporter Marla Cone. The reason? Because our regulations of industrial chemicals are lax or non-existent, we’ve fallen behind the world’s largest market, the European Union, which has banned toxic substances from cosmetics and electronics.
While Procter & Gamble reluctantly removed hormone-disrupting, fat-cell-feeding phthalates from its nail polish and other personal products in both the EU and U.S., many companies apply a double standard in the two markets, said Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power (Chelsea Green, 2007). In the meantime, Schapiro noted, industry continues to fight labeling that would allow us to make informed choices. For instance, we have to guess at whether “Fragrance” in a body cream or shampoo is made with phthalates or not.
What to do? Type your cosmetics into the search engine at Environmental Working Group’s http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com. If you can’t find it there-- as in the case of my Burt’s Bees Carrot Day Cream, which lists “fragrance” as an ingredient—you can search individual ingredients listed on the packaging, which EWG rates as green, yellow or red, depending on the level of risk. EWG rates “fragrance/parfum” as a “high hazard.” I was able to approximate the risk for my carrot cream by comparing it with a similar Burt’s Bees Milk n’ Honey Body Lotion, which also lists “fragrance” and gets a “moderate hazard” rating.
So, what’s “fragrance” doing in creams by Burt’s, which has signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics? I called the company and asked. They assured me that their fragrance was all-natural essential oils and that all their products are phthalate-free. But if they don’t spell it out, there’s really no way that a consumer can be sure—in the U.S., at least.