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New report exposes toxic chemicals in soaps, shampoos, deodorants, toothpaste

Ottawa — Canada needs stronger rules to keep toxic chemicals out of personal care products, according to a report issued today by the David Suzuki Foundation. The report discusses the findings of an online survey conducted earlier this year in which participants were asked to inspect ingredient lists for twelve sets of potentially harmful chemicals used as ingredients in cosmetics. More than 6,200 Canadians participated in the survey, providing information for 12,500 personal care products. Four out of five of the products entered in the survey contained at least one ingredients with suspected links to environmental or health problems — including cancer, reproductive disorders, asthma and severe allergies.

"Our survey results indicate the widespread presence of a dirty dozen ingredients in products that we use on our bodies every day," said Lisa Gue, environmental health policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. "Clearly, we need more effective regulatory action to keep these potentially harmful chemicals out of consumer products."

The report identifies several weaknesses in Canada's cosmetic ingredient labeling and notification requirements. For example, manufacturers are not required to disclose specific fragrance ingredients; instead using the generic term "parfum" on ingredient lists to disguise a cocktail of potentially harmful chemicals. Even products labeled "unscented" and "fragrance-free" may contain unspecified fragrance ingredients used to mask the odor of other chemicals. "Parfum" was the most commonly reported ingredient, identified in more than half of the products entered in the survey.

"The fragrance loophole clearly fails the sniff test," continued Gue. "Cosmetic manufacturers should be required to specify which chemicals they use as fragrance ingredients, and potentially harmful ingredients should be replaced with safer alternatives."

While the results of the survey certainly aren't pretty, they do indicate an overwhelming appetite for change — 98 per cent of survey participants agreed that Canada's laws should be strengthened. Other recommendations in the report include: identifying potentially hazardous ingredients in personal care products with a standardized system of warning labels; allowing public access to ingredient information that cosmetic manufacturers submit to Health Canada; and controlling commercial use of the terms "unscented/fragrance-free" and "natural/bio/organic".

The report, What's inside? That counts, and background materials are available in our publications section.

For more information, please contact:

Lisa Gue, David Suzuki Foundation, Phone 613.594.5428
Jode Roberts, David Suzuki Foundation, 647.456.9752 cell, jroberts@davidzuzuki.org

About the David Suzuki Foundation: The David Suzuki Foundation is a Canadian nonprofit organization that works with government, business, and individuals to protect the health of our communities and the environment through science-based education, advocacy, and policy work, and acting as a catalyst for social change.

October 19, 2010

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