Con­sumers should not be in dark on dan­gers

Albany Times Union (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIVE - By Jon Whe­lan

If you haven’t been fol­low­ing the news about John­son & John­son, you’re miss­ing out. A brief sum­mary: Since 1971 J&J has known their baby pow­der con­tained can­cer-caus­ing as­bestos. Ex­ec­u­tives knew. Mine man­agers knew. Lawyers knew. Lit­er­ally ev­ery­one knew. Ex­cept con­sumers.

This past sum­mer, 22 women with ovar­ian can­cer won a $4.69 bil­lion law­suit against John­son & John­son, ex­pos­ing this fact. Just be­fore the new year, an­other re­port emerged, re­veal­ing an in­tri­cate and in-depth con­spir­acy to cover up who knew what and when.

Many con­sumers think, how could this hap­pen? The an­swer: It’s the law. A quirk in fed­eral law ac­tu­ally al­lows com­pa­nies to know­ingly sell prod­ucts with car­cino­gens. Man­u­fac­tur­ers of per­sonal care prod­ucts are re­quired to list in­gre­di­ents on la­bels, but if some­thing wasn’t in­ten­tion­ally added, like as­bestos, it does not have to be dis­closed to con­sumers on the la­bel. This is an open se­cret, a la­bel­ing loop­hole.

John­son & John­son had no in­cen­tive to re­move as­bestos from their pow­der or warn any­one be­cause they didn’t have to. It stands to rea­son that some­one shop­ping for baby pow­der would refuse to pur­chase one la­beled “talc, fra­grance, and as­bestos.” And no man­u­fac­turer wants to ad­mit that they’re sell­ing un­in­tended in­gre­di­ents. But how can we avoid buy­ing talc that con­tains as­bestos if as­bestos isn’t on the la­bel?

Con­sumers fol­low­ing the news are now be­ing care­ful about their baby pow­der pur­chases. But we should broaden our scope. There are many more prod­ucts on the mar­ket that con­tain undis­closed can­cer-caus­ing in­gre­di­ents. It’s like play­ing whack-a-mole.

Fact: There is lead in your lip­stick. Fact: There is formalde­hyde in your sham­poo.

Fact: There is 1,4-Diox­ane in your laun­dry de­ter­gent.

None of these in­gre­di­ents are la­beled; all of them are “un­in­ten­tional” con­tam­i­nants. And all are in­dis­putably harm­ful to health. Low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected. A sur­vey found that 81 per­cent of Dol­lar Store prod­ucts con­tained chem­i­cals linked to can­cer, early pu­berty and learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties.

Of course, con­sumers can al­ways call com­pa­nies to ask ques­tions about their prod­uct in­gre­di­ents. But an­swers will be lim­ited to what’s dis­closed on the la­bel. It’s plau­si­ble that cus­tomer sup­port rep­re­sen­ta­tives aren’t aware of un­in­ten­tional car­cino­gens but the com­pany’s lob­by­ists in D.C. sure are.

I know this be­cause I make these calls.

I called a lead­ing lip­stick maker and asked if there was lead in their block­buster lip­stick. The woman on the phone said no. I ex­plained lab re­sults re­vealed oth­er­wise. Her story changed: “If there is lead, we didn’t add it,” she said.

I called a top-sell­ing laun­dry de­ter­gent brand. Sur­pris­ingly, their cus­tomer ser­vice rep agreed there was an off-la­bel car­cino­gen in the prod­uct, then as­sured me it was at a safe — undis­closed — level. She added, “Ev­ery­thing causes can­cer nowa­days.”

This did not re­as­sure me. Only full in­gre­di­ent dis­clo­sure sup­ported by laws could. We must close the loop­hole and re­quire that all in­gre­di­ents be listed on

The fact re­mains that the FDA does not cur­rently have the au­thor­ity to en­sure per­sonal care prod­ucts are free from known toxic chem­i­cals.

prod­ucts, even ones un­in­ten­tion­ally added by man­u­fac­tur­ers. Con­sumers have the right to avoid things that cause can­cer.

Mean­while, can­cer rates con­tinue to rise: 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men will be di­ag­nosed with can­cer in their life­times.

I sus­pect that the con­sumer rage be­ing lev­eled against John­son & John­son is due, in part, to the fact that most peo­ple know as­bestos is in­dis­putably deadly. It even has its own sig­na­ture can­cer. The only way to get mesothe­lioma is through as­bestos ex­po­sure. And yet, it’s in pow­der meant for ba­bies and used by mil­lions of Amer­i­can con­sumers, young and old.

The fact re­mains that the

FDA does not cur­rently have the au­thor­ity to en­sure per­sonal care prod­ucts are free from known toxic chem­i­cals. There is no pre-mar­ket ap­proval re­quire­ment. There are sev­eral la­bel­ing loop­holes, in­clud­ing this ab­surd un­in­ten­tional in­gre­di­ent one, that pro­tect prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ers and leave con­sumers ex­posed to chem­i­cals known to be toxic.

Can some­thing as iconic as baby pow­der fuel a move­ment and lead to change? I think so. J&J’S set­tle­ment has shaken up the busi­ness com­mu­nity. Watch — in­gre­di­ent dis­clo­sure will be a crit­i­cal fight in 2019. And New York state is primed to lead this fight.

By all ac­counts, those of us who live in New York state care deeply about hu­man health, the en­vi­ron­ment, and good jobs. In 2019, thanks to com­mit­ted ad­vo­cates and Gov. An­drew Cuomo, we will be­come the first state in the na­tion to re­quire clean­ing prod­uct mak­ers to dis­close in­gre­di­ents and haz­ards. The gover­nor’s agenda for his first 100 days of the 2019 leg­isla­tive ses­sion in­cludes launch­ing a Green New Deal. Clos­ing this undis­closed in­gre­di­ent loop­hole ties in nicely to his plans and would set New York up to lead the na­tion in chem­i­cal in­no­va­tion. When com­pa­nies are forced to dis­close un­in­tended in­gre­di­ents, I be­lieve they will re­for­mu­late in­stead.

New York can be a cat­a­lyst for a green chem­istry rev­o­lu­tion for a more sus­tain­able fu­ture. Time to go back to the draw­ing board: Let’s re­think the decades-old prod­uct for­mu­las based on dirty petro­chem­i­cals and cre­ate trans­parency. Gover­nor Cuomo, all eyes are on you.

Jon Whe­lan is a board mem­ber of Clean and Healthy New York, a card-car­ry­ing cap­i­tal­ist, an an­gel in­vestor and the di­rec­tor of the Netf lix doc­u­men­tary “Stink!”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.