Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article incorrectly said that California requires warning labels for products that contain 0.03 parts per million of 1,4-dioxane. It should have said 30 parts per million.

Toxin Found in 'Natural,' 'Organic' Items

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 15, 2008

Some major brands of shampoo, shower gel and dish soap marketed as "natural" or "organic" contain small amounts of a potentially dangerous chemical, according to a report released yesterday by the Organic Consumers Association.

The OCA, which represents consumers and manufacturers in the natural and organic foods industry, said an independent lab's tests of more than 100 personal-care products sold in natural-food stores found trace amounts of 1,4-dioxane in 46 products. The petroleum-based solvent, which causes cancer in animals, is not added to the items but appears as a byproduct of manufacturing.

Some of the products tested had the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic seal, and none of those contained 1,4-dioxane.

The report is the latest salvo in a five-year battle over marketing claims that has divided the booming natural-products industry. The group said the presence of 1,4-dioxane poses a health risk and undermines natural and organic claims by some manufacturers.

But government regulators disagree on whether trace amounts of 1,4-dioxane in personal-care and household products are dangerous. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates personal-care products, said the amounts typically found in cosmetics "do not present a hazard to consumers."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates household cleaners, has no limit for 1,4-dioxane and evaluates the safety of products on a case-by-case basis, spokesman Scott Wolfson said.

California requires that products that contain more than 30 parts per million of 1,4-dioxane carry a warning saying that the contents may cause cancer. The amounts the OCA found were as high as 97.1 parts per million, in a dish liquid.

Products that the OCA said had 1,4-dioxane include Jason Fragrance Free Satin Soap, Citrus Magic 100 Percent Natural Dish Liquid, Alba Botanical Passion Fruit Body Wash and Whole Foods Market 365 Everyday Value Shower Gel. Products that tested negative included Burt's Bees Body Wash, Dr. Bronner's and Sundog's Magic Orange Lavender Organic Lotion, Clorox Green Works Natural All-Purpose Cleaner, and Dr. Hauschka Body Wash Fresh.

The OCA receives 90 percent of its funding from individuals and the rest from grants, some of which are from companies. Two of the group's funders make personal-care products, and the OCA tested the products of one, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, which did not contain 1,4-dioxane. It did not test products from the other funder, Intelligent Nutrients, because they are not widely available.

The results surprised some of the companies named in the report. "It's the first we've even heard of that," said John Howell, technical director of Beaumont Products of Kennesaw, Ga., which produces Citrus Magic 100 Percent Natural Dish Liquid. "We'll look into both our raw materials and anything we can think of."

Whole Foods makes "natural" but no "organic" claims for its 365 Everyday Value products. Spokeswoman Cathy Cochran-Lewis said the company plans to investigate the report's findings.

Lisa Lehndorff, a spokeswoman for Hain Celestial, which owns Jason and Alba, said that the Jason tagline of "pure, natural, and organic" refers only to ingredients and that Alba makes no organic claims. The "natural" claim means "we strive to use ingredients originating from natural sources," she said.

Personal-care products with the USDA organic seal must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients. That policy was the result of a settlement between the USDA and the OCA, which sued the agency three years ago, saying it failed to police organic claims. Misuse of the USDA organic seal carries penalties of $11,000 per violation and a ban on using the seal for several years, spokeswoman Joan Shaffer said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company