The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has finalized settlement agreements with 14 personal care companies, including Colgate-Palmolive Co., Avlon Industries Inc., and House of Cheatham Inc., to remove a chemical called cocamide DEA from their products in California. The settlements are expected to have national implications.
Cocamide DEA is a synthetic chemical made by a reaction between coconut oils and diethanolamine. The chemical is frequently used in shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, and shower gels as a foaming agent, and as a thickener, says the CEH, which has also found it in shaving creams and some dishwashing detergents.
The concern is that the chemical is a possible human carcinogen and is known to cause cancer in lab animals.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) tested the chemical by applying it to the skins of 100 mice, for five-days-a-week for two years, which resulted in a high incidence of tumors forming on their kidneys and livers.
The IARC said that the increased incidence in mice was “associated with the high level of free diethanolamine that was present in the solutions.”
In addition, the Environmental Working Group said there is strong evidence that the chemical can trigger skin allergies.
The CEH used California’s Prop 65, also called the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, as a pretext for its litigation. As the CEH explained, the law requires businesses to warn California consumers if their products will expose them to “significant amounts of toxic chemicals.”
The law covers two types of toxic chemicals: those that cause cancer and those that cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. California’s governor is charged with maintaining a list of these toxic chemicals, which is updated at least annually.
In 2012, cocamide DEA was identified by California as a cancer-causing chemical. The CEH explained that under Prop 65, businesses were given a one-year grace period, after which they would be required to either warn their customers about the presence of the chemical or remove it from their products.
Beginning last summer, the CEH began an investigation in which it purchased hundreds of shampoos and other products from major national stores around California and from online retailers. The group looked for products than contained cocamide DEA without any warning labels, which is a violation of Prop 65.
The investigation resulted in the CEH initiating litigation against over 150 companies which either make or sell the violating products.