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Schumer asks FDA to mandate removal of contaminant 1,4-dioxane

On Thursday, April 13, 2017, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the FDA at a news conference to require the removal of a probable carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane from all cleaning products such as shampoos, shower gels and lotions. The EPA has said that short-term exposure can cause irritation and long-term exposure can cause kidney and liver damage, but Schumer says the process to remove it, called vacuum stripping, doesn't cost much. (Credit: Ed Betz)

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Thursday said he will petition the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require that manufacturers remove the probable carcinogen 1,4-dioxane from consumer products like shampoos and lotions.

The step, the New York Democrat said, would protect both public health and drinking water.

“It’s time to drain 1,4-dioxane from everyday products,” Schumer said during a news conference in Lake Success.

The legislative petition — also signed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — asks the FDA to start the formal process to require manufacturers to strip the chemical from their products before hitting store shelves.

The FDA did not respond to a request for comment.

The chemical is used as a solvent for things like resins, oils and waxes, but it also can be a byproduct formed during the manufacturing of personal-care products. It is not required to be listed on ingredient labels.

“Consumers can’t identify it and most importantly, it ends up in our water supply,” Schumer said.

Short-term exposure to 1,4-dioxane can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. Kidney and liver damage can happen after long-term exposure, Schumer said. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed the chemical as a probable carcinogen after prolonged exposure.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said there were two ways the chemical was getting into the water supply — from legacy manufacturing contamination and consumer personal-care products that get washed down the drain.

The petition “is exactly what needs to happen,” she said.

Jay Ansell, vice president of cosmetic programs for the trade group Personal Care Products Council, said the request is not necessary.

“We agree it should be reduced and we have reduced it,” Ansell said. “This is a manufacturing issue; it’s not a safety issue.”

Ansell said most cosmetics contain less than 10 parts per million of 1,4-dioxane and that the industry believes that level is safe for public health. “No one finds that it’s a problem at the levels that are currently present,” he said.

The FDA has seen declines in 1,4-dioxane levels in cosmetics since it began monitoring the chemical in the 1970s, but the agency has no limit on allowable concentrations. The FDA has alerted manufacturers to health hazards, and it explained a process known as vacuum stripping that can remove the contaminant, according to the agency’s website.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington group focused on public health and the environment, said in a 2008 report that 1,4-dioxane was found in about 46 percent of personal-care products.

Rich Humann, president and CEO of H2M Architects + Engineers, said results of a ban would take time to see. “It can obviously prevent any future 1,4-dioxane contamination but I don’t think we would see the benefits for decades,” he said.

The issue of 1,4-dioxane in water supplies came to light as a result of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that requires water suppliers to test for unregulated contaminants periodically. The most recent survey included 1,4-dioxane.

Survey results released last year showed 71 percent of water suppliers tested on Long Island detected trace amounts of the chemical — at levels that could pose a 1-in-a-million cancer risk after prolonged exposure. Nationwide, only 6.9 percent of water suppliers tested reported concentrations with the same cancer risk.

Separately, state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) has filed a bill with the legislature to prohibit the sale of cosmetic and cleaning products containing 1,4-dioxane.

“These chemicals are actively being introduced every day and we can take steps to cut that out,” he said.

According to the FDA, 1,4-dioxane, which can form as a byproduct during manufacturing, is not required to be listed as an ingredient. Look for the prefix, word, or syllables “PEG,” “Polyethylene,” “Polyethylene glycol,” “Polyoxyethylene,” “-eth-,” or “-oxynol-“ for products that could contain the compound.

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