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Controversy over lead and toxic chemicals in common products

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) has brought national attention to the fact that lead and other known carcinogens are found in a number of daily-use consumer products.  Manufacturers of the products and some authorities argue that the chemicals are present in such small quantities that they do not pose a health risk.  The New York Times has published several columns on the issue, including potential sources of further information.

On May 28, 2009, the NYT reported that formaldehyde and 1.4-dioxane was found in 55 children's personal care products.  Both are "probable" carcinogens, according to the EPA.  Seventeen of the children's products, including Johnson & Johnson's Baby Shampoo, contain both.  The CSC has asked the FDA to establish safety standards for these chemicals and for lead in lipstick; it urged a limit on lead similar to the 0.1 ppm that is the federal limit for lead in candy.  The FDA and other authorities consider the quantities of the various chemicals currently contained in these products to be so minute as not to pose a health risk.

The CSC counters that one-third of the 33 lipsticks it tested contained lead in excess of the 0.1 ppm standard.  L'Oreal Colour Riche "True Red" (at 0.65) and Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor "Maximum Red" (0.56) were the worst offenders, as the price of the cosmetic turned out to be unrelated to its lead content.

The George Mason University Center for Health and Risk Communication maintains a website called  The website editor pointed out that there are major disagreements about how risk is evaluated and expressed little concern over the reported carcinogens in baby products.  The website published a survey of nearly a thousand members of the Society of Toxicology which reported that only 26 percent of the society's members considered cosmetics to be a "significant source of chemical health risk." Because cosmetic manufacturers are not required by the FDA to list the "unintended" ingredients resulting as a byproduct of manufacturing, the Environmental Working Group, another non-profit, maintains a consumer database at, where it lists both the "intended" and "unintended" ingredients in more than 42,000 products.

Dr. Sean Palfrey, medical director of the Boston Lead Poisoning Prevention Program suggested there is reason for concern with regard to lead levels, since the mineral "builds up in the body over time, so small amounts applied daily can add up and stay in our bodies."  Dr. David Bellinger of Harvard Medical School has published research on the effect of exposures to low lead levels and agreed that "no amount of lead exposure appears to be 'safe'." 

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