Cleaning chemical’s link to cancer raises concerns

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DENVER -- As a mother of three, Sara Goodwin does her best to keep a healthy home, and that means she’s careful about the household products she buys.

“It concerns me that these products could have chemicals that could be harmful to my kids, and contribute to things like cancer, and asthma, allergies,” Goodwin said. 

She’s not alone. 

An environmental group called Women’s Voices for the Earth commissioned lab tests in household products and found that Tide Original Scent and Tide Free and Gentle were found to contain small amounts of something called 1,4-dioxane. 

That’s a solvent that the Environmental Protection Agency considers a probable carcinogen.   

Bounce Free and Sensitive dryer sheets, and Simple Green Naturals Multi-surface Care Lemon Verbena also contained small amounts of the chemical.  

“Why buy those products if you can buy products that don’t have the chemicals in them?” Goodwin said. 

But choosing another detergent may not be the answer.  Studies show 1,4-dioxane in all sorts of cleaning and cosmetic products.   The Organic Consumers Association put together a list they categorize by caution and avoid.

Proctor and Gamble re-formulated its Herbal Essences shampoos and Johnson and Johnson did the same with its baby shampoo to cut out or reduce the amount of 1,4-dioxane. 

Many consumers want the same with Tide, especially since Tide Free and Gentle seems to be marketed as a safer option for moms with babies. 

But Proctor and Gamble says the level of 1,4-dioxane inside their products is miniscule and falls well within safety guidelines. 

A P&G spokesperson said, “A person would have to wash and wear well over 1,000 loads of laundry every day to exceed a safe range.” 

For some perspective, we talked to Dr. Andrew Ternay, a professor emeritus at the University of Denver, who has written several chemistry books and has worked with 1,4-dioxane for decades.  He says the amounts in Tide are so small, they are not dangerous. 

“I wouldn’t worry about it, I really wouldn’t,” he said.  “I wouldn’t worry about it for my own grandchild.”

Still, people like Sara Goodwin feel better choosing other products.   

Products like Tide do not list the ingredients on the back, but you can check their website.  Because 1,4-dioxane is a by-product it is not listed on any labels. 

Resources:

Fact sheet

Shopper's safety guide

Organicconsumers.org

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