Bill aimed at banning chemicals in personal care products stalls in California legislature

By John Breslin | Apr 22, 2019

SACRAMENTO – California legislators have parked a bill that would have banned the use of a range of chemicals in personal health care products.

Members of the Assembly's Environment, Safety and Toxic Materials Committee failed to vote on the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, AB 495 after it became clear supporters did not have enough votes to move it to the Health Committee.

The legislation, opposed by industry groups who argue the bill's sponsors hugely simplified the issue, aimed to ban 20 chemicals and chemical groups, including mercury, lead, phthalates, formaldehyde, triclosan and fluorinated compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS).

They would have been labeled “adulterated cosmetics” and banned from sale in California. The bill is sponsored by Environmental Working Group and CALPIRG, the California-headquartered consumer advocacy organization.

Supporters hoped that given California's outsized consumer heft that the ban would spread across the country.

Andrew Fasoli of the American Chemistry Council, a trade association, previously told the Northern California Record that the state "already has a process in place to do exactly what this legislation is intending to do."

"In 2013, DTSC’s (Department of Toxic Substances Control) Safer Consumer Products Program took effect, creating a rule making authority that brings multiple stakeholders to the table to determine the risks that chemicals in consumer products pose and if a viable and effective alternative is available," Fasoli said.

"It does not make sense for the legislature to circumvent a program that they created and completely ignore the determinations made by qualified experts.”

Jay Ansell, vice president of the trade group Personal Care Products Council, told the Los Angeles Times that the bill “grossly oversimplifies the complex science behind the ingredients in cosmetics and personal-care products.”

Ansell added that independent experts around the world found the chemicals named in the bill were "safe when used under prescribed conditions in cosmetics and personal-care products."

He told the LA Times that "laws like AB 495 would just contribute to the patchwork of state and local regulations that do not represent the best relevant and available science.”

The issue of PFAS chemical compounds, of which there are some 5,000 but around 100 in use in a wide range of consumer products as well as in fire-fighting foam used by both the military and civilian emergency crews, was the subject of a recent U.S. Senate committee hearing.

Susan D. Richardson, a professor of chemistry at the University of South Carolina and affiliated with the American Chemical Society, has written several review articles on the toxicity of PFAS compounds.

Richardson told the Northern California Record that it is her understanding that these compounds are included in personal care products to add stabilization and consistency.

Few human studies have been carried out on their impact and whether there are links between the compounds, particularly two of the most historically common, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and certain conditions and diseases, the professor said, adding that the reason is due to their expense.

One study on residents in the Mid-Ohio Valley in West Virginia, included on the website of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), did conclude "PFOA exposure was associated with kidney and testicular cancer in this population. Because this is largely a survivor cohort, findings must be interpreted with caution, especially for highly fatal cancers such as pancreatic and lung cancer." 

The residents were downriver from a DuPont facility that manufactured products containing PFOA.

While personal care products are the target in California, the PFAS compounds can be found in microwave popcorn, inside pizza boxes, ski jackets, dental floss, Teflon-coated cooking pans, and brand names such as Scotch Guard.

The use of PFOA and PFAS has largely been discontinued, but Richardson noted that the so-called Gen X replacements, which it was thought would degrade much quicker, remains stable in the environment, including drinking water.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard testimony from representatives of the NIH, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control on the potential impact of a man-made, fluorine-based chemical class.

It focused on those two most-widely used historically - the ones provoking the deepest concern. National health agencies have been investigating health concerns regarding the chemicals for three decades, largely over their seeping into drinking and ground water.

Members also heard testimony and questioned a senior official from the Department of Defense, which used large amounts of the foam known as AFFF. For years, the foam was used in training and to fight fires and contained the two chemicals in the class.

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