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INORGANIC HUMANS AND
UNNATURAL PROCESSES

In this current age of modern enlightenment and the ubiquitous internet, people are truly empowered to understand their consumer lives and what constitutes a smart, healthy, informed purchase. This heightened awareness, has allowed consumers to gain a foothold in their struggle to find and purchase quality services and healthy products.

More so than ever, consumers are concerned with exactly what is in their favorite healthy products. Much to the credit of consumer advocacy groups, like the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ (CCIC), consumers are entering a new era of corporate accountability and product integrity.

A healthy, naturally fortified, whole life – incorporating sustainable methods of diet, hygiene, and wellness – is what a new generation of consumers is looking for, with more and more seeking a fuller declaration of ingredients and manufacturing processes by companies producing “organic” or “natural” products. With the recent discovery of the toxicant carcinogen 1,4-dioxane in several well-known body-care and household-cleaning products, this unhealthful, harmful revelation has become a topic of true concern with companies in the organic or naturally produced product industries.

To make matters more disconcerting for these companies, in March of 2008, the Attorney General of California, acting on both independent (OCA) and state-funded research, filed a lawsuit against companies whose products tested highest for the 1,4-dioxane toxicant. According to a subsequent article by the L.A. Times, “…tests of 100 ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ soaps, shampoos and other consumer products show that nearly half of them contained [1,4-dioxane] … a byproduct of petrochemicals used in manufacturing.”

The toxicant, which is not an ingredient but a contaminant from the manufacturing process, has been identified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen for having caused cancer in lab animals. Under California’s Proposition 65, and in-line with the EPA’s findings, “consumer products that contain toxic levels of 1,4-dioxane must have warning labels stating that may cause cancer.” The dilemma with these companies is they may actually be diluting the purity of these “organic” and “natural” products in their processes and efforts to bring a high-quality, yet affordable product to market. As it appears, the problem comes from these companies attempting to make a natural product more marketable and affordable. In their efforts to save a dollar, the healthful, natural quality of their products has been sullied, and the entire industry is taking a closer look at what may be a larger problem: inorganic humans and unnatural processes.

To understand this dilemma, a brief history of the organic or naturally produced product industry is necessary. Fifty years or so ago, a few imaginative, health-conscious manufacturers brought their organic and natural products to market – among the leaders at the forefront were Aubrey Organics and Dr. Bronner’s products. As was their intent, these products were able to live up to their healthy billing, and seized a market share that had previously been untapped. Though there weren’t any definitive regulatory practices in place, the “natural” essence of their products and their healthful intent were genuine.

Fast forward to the eighties and nineties, when a slew of “natural” and “organic” manufacturers began to enter the market. The human processes necessary to bring “natural” and “organic” products to market are just that – made by humans. With “bottom-line” and “shareholder equity” replacing favored policies of “sustainability,” “eco-conscious,” and “enviro-friendly,” corners were cut and healthful quality appears to have suffered. These companies are attempting to bring a high-quality, healthy, wholesome product to market, but are failing in the end. What was once a good thing is appearing less so.

The general consensus on the subject – among government, watchdog, scientific, and wholesale officials – is the toxic compound is not intentionally added to these products. Tests indicate 1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of the human process used to soften harsh detergents. It is formed when “surfactants,” or foaming agents, are processed with certain petrochemicals. Put another way, the process is intended to make products gentler, more soothing, cleaner, fresher, and more dynamic, but some of these formulas result in less than favorable results.

The federal government’s Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry releases what they call “ToxFAQs™”, with the stated intention being a “fact sheet in a series of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects.” Their September 2007 ToxFAQs™ for 1,4-dioxane describes the toxicant as a “trace contaminant of some chemicals used in cosmetics, detergents, and shampoos,” with manufacturers being required to reduce these “chemicals to low levels before these chemicals are made into products use in the home.”

Families wanting to avoid products containing 1,4-dioxane may do so by reviewing and recognizing the following ingredients required to appear on the outer container labels offered for retail sale: “PEG,” “polyethylene,” “polyethylene glycol,” “polyoxyethylene,” or “polyoxynolethylene.” Many products on the market today contain 1,4-dioxane in minute, immeasurable amounts.

It’s not as alarming as some may imagine, with many solidly imagined and well-designed products exceeding national health standards. In fact, the OCA study indicated that all products certified by the USDA National Organic Program were free of 1,4-dioxane because their strict regulations don’t allow the process in question. Only companies selling products that tested close to or in excess of 20 parts per million for 1,4-dioxane in the OCA study were named in the lawsuit, and there seems an idea that the lawsuit is meant as an important measure of the true condition of this burgeoning industry.

Indeed, with some major players, like Whole Foods, being forced to inventory some of their product-line formulas, some companies announced shortly after the March 2008 lawsuit that they would be reformulating their products to ensure removal of the problematic ingredient or any faulty formula. This may be the kind of opportunity necessary for the “organic” and “natural” products industry to bring their efforts at improving and reimagining healthy products while bettering our environment.

Some forward-thinking companies even though they are not mentioned nor named in any of these salacious charges, are taking a voluntary stance to prove the purity and wholesome quality of their products. This kind of action is in lieu of more definitive regulatory guidance, as much of this industry operates outside any regulation or concrete standards. Though, many companies are asking for just that – more specific regulation.

With new organizations – like the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ (CCIC) “Leaping Bunny” certification program, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), the Organic Trade Association (OTA), and the Natural Products Association – many companies embrace oversight and regulation to embolden their claims of being “organic” and “natural” as well as “sustainable,” “eco-conscious” and “carbon footprint free.” These companies are at the forefront of what was once a grassroots effort to improve overall product quality for the consumer while sustaining a viable and beneficial plan to nurture and conserve natural resources. An issue like 1,4-dioxane is simply a great way for them to shed more light on their cleanliness and natural goodness, to use an apt metaphor.

One initiative for change is the “Compact for Safe Cosmetics,” which has been signed by several leading personal care and beauty product companies. The stated goal of the signed compact is “to reduce hazardous chemicals that are prevalent in our bodies, our environment and in the personal care products we use daily.” The OCA offers anyone to join the more than 500 companies and thousands of consumers to support their “Coming Clean Campaign” – a campaign to rid the marketplace of synthetic personal care products misleadingly labeled as “organic.”

A healthy, naturally fortified, whole life, with focus on diet, hygiene, and wellness, is what many consumers want and need. With a larger percentage seeking a full-disclosure of ingredients and manufacturing processes by companies producing “organic” or “natural” products, this is a new era of manufacturing accountability and corporate responsibility. 1,4-dioxane need not be a bane to companies in the organic or naturally produced product industries, but rather a nod to human error and an indication of a better world in the works. Natural beauty takes time. Let’s keep a close watch.

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Written by: Barry Jude Lundry


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