Brown sues over toxic soap allegations

Jerry Brown

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)--Four companies are being targeted by California Attorney General Jerry Brown for allegedly not warning consumers of a potentially cancer-causing chemical in their body washes and dish soaps.

The chemical-1,4-dioxane-has been found to cause cancer in lab animals.

California law requires manufactures to attach warning labels to products containing potentially toxic compounds under Proposition 65, passed by voters in 1986.

The Democratic attorney general filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior court late last month.

The companies named in the lawsuit are Whole Foods, Avalon Natural Products, Beaumont Products, and NutriBiotic.

The lawsuit stems in part from a report published in March by Oakland, Calif.-based Organic Consumers Association, alleging the companies' products had more dioxane than is allowed.

The consumer group sent letters to each of the four companies named in the study (the same four sued by Brown's office). Of those, only Beaumont responsded to OCA.

"Upon being notified that there was a problem with our product, we verified that the problem existed, then took immediate action," the company wrote in a letter posted on OCA's Web site.

OCA said in a statement that "Beaumont has reformulated their products to remove the problematic ingredient, highlighting their dedication to providing safe products, in contrast to the lack of action taken by the other three companies."

In the lawsuit, the attorney general alleges the companies knew about the high levels of dioxane since May 29, 2004 or before, and says they "failed to provide consumers of the body washes and gels and liquid dish soaps with a clear and reasonable warning that they are being exposed to chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer."

"These companies need to stop treating the inclusion of cancer causing chemicals in their products as 'business as usual' and reformulate before consumer confidence in the natural products and organics industry is permanently damaged," said David Steinman, a consumer activist who conducted the OCA study.

A spokesman for Whole Foods told the Los Angeles Times the company is looking into the allegations.

"We have conducted our own investigation into the allegations that some of our products contain 1,4-dioxane and do not believe these products represent a health risk or are in excess of California's Proposition 65 safe harbor level for 1,4-dioxane," Libba Letton was quoted as saying.

Letton said the Texas-based grocery chain is cooperating with the attorney general's office "to resolve the claims as quickly as possible."

Under Prop. 65, the companies could face civil penalties of $2,500 per day for each violation.

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