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Organics with a Side...

Organics with a Side of Cancer?

I’d just rinsed a plate that had contained raw chicken, and made a quick calculation about how best to deal with the germs now lingering in my sink. Since my eighteen-month-old son’s sippee cups and utensils often touch the sink, I decided to forgo heavy-duty Clorox spray and opt instead for the “green” Seventh Generation Natural Dish Liquid I’d just purchased at Kroger. Surely, I thought, the bottle with a big picture of a leaf is safer than pure bleach.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

Moments later I received an emailed article about a study commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association and overseen by environmental health consumer advocate (and The Safe Shopper’s Bible author) David Steinman. The study revealed “the presence of the undisclosed carcinogenic contaminant 1,4-Dioxane in leading shampoos, body washes, lotions, and other personal care and household cleaning products claiming to be ‘natural’ or ‘organic.’” The Seventh Generation product I’d just used was on the list.

Among the offending brands were Whole Foods Market’s private label “365 Everyday Value” dish liquid, shampoo, and shower gel. The shower gel registered at 20.1 parts per million, far greater than the study’s 0.2 detection limit.

The study’s most egregious offender was Citrus Magic 100 % Natural Dish Liquid, which racked up 97.1 parts per million of the known carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane.

Because I’d just used the Seventh Generation brand, this study really hit home. I am fatigued and frustrated by what seems to be daily recalls (“Oh, no big deal, but your son’s toys have lead in them”). Is it too much to ask that companies do not knowingly place toxic ingredients into items you use to clean your house, wash your baby’s hair, and drink from? And especially when they charge more by claiming to be “green,” “organic,” or “natural”?

I contacted the spokesperson for Seventh Generation, who directed me to the company’s lengthy online response to the study. Seventh Generation notes that the dish liquid, which does contain “a minute amount” of the ethoxylate 1,4-dioxane, “is deemed safe according to the FDA’s and our own strict guidelines.”

“We are committed to eliminating all harmful chemicals from household cleaning products. Consistent with our core mission, we have worked with surfactant manufacturers for many years to reduce levels of 1,4-dixoane in ethoxylated surfactants and it is our intent to completely eliminate 1,4-dioxane from all of our products.”

Well, that’s good to know, but it doesn’t make me much feel better.

What does make me feel a little better is that I now know exactly what to look for in the grocery store aisle: The Organic Consumers Association says that products certified under the USDA National Organic Program do not contain the toxin. Rather, “most of the best-selling personal care products claiming to be ‘organic’ (but not USDA certified) contained the cancer-causing ingredient.”

It is impossible, in my opinion, to make sure that everything that touches my family is safe. But when a company touts itself as “natural” or “organic,” and then does not disclose that it is placing a known cancer-causing ingredient into its products (even in tiny doses), I feel as though I’ve been had.