Green Products to Face Shortfall in Key Ingredients: Report

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By Tiffany Stecker

Companies are scrambling for green alternatives to the chemicals that prevent products from going bad, as consumers shift their tastes to more sustainable goods.

Preservatives help prevent microbial growth in products such as cosmetics, medicine, paints and cleaning supplies. But they can also contain hazardous chemicals that are being targeted by regulators. Safer choices are elusive, as is access to the toxicological information needed to develop alternatives, the Environmental Defense Fund said in a new report.

The lack of comprehensive, transparent, and comparable information “is a major obstacle to safer chemical innovation,” the report said. Of the 16 preservatives analyzed in the report, none qualified for the “safer chemical” benchmark.

The findings aren’t surprising, said Jennifer McPartland, a senior scientist in EDF’s Health Program. But the report does give scientists, government agencies and companies a better sense of where the data gaps lie, and how to systematically and consistently analyze the chemicals.

“I think there are ripe opportunities, as well as a genuine, sincere interest in the marketplace, of bringing in something new,” McPartland told Bloomberg BNA.

Working with a small group of preservative suppliers and product manufacturers, EDF analyzed the preservatives through the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals method, a chemical hazard assessment system to identify substances of high concern and safer alternatives. One chemical, DMDM hydantoin, scored high for carcinogenicity because it breaks down into formaldehyde, which is known to cause cancer in humans.

Two States Cracking Down

Most preservatives tested—10 out of 16—fell under the “use, but search for safer alternatives” benchmark, just one level removed from the “avoid” label. The 16 chemicals chosen are a representative sample of the preservatives in the market, McPartland said.

The analysis looked at the potential to cause skin sensitization, skin irritation, eye irrigation, and acute or chronic aquatic toxicity.

The lack of less toxic preservatives is becoming increasingly important to companies, as states and countries tighten regulations around preservatives and consumers flock to alternatives. A 2015 Nielsen poll found that 66 percent of consumers surveyed worldwide are willing to pay more for sustainable products, and retailers are expanding on policies to green their inventory.

The European Union’s 2013 Cosmetics Regulation requires manufacturers to prepare a safety report before placing a product on the market.

Minnesota and Washington state have also passed laws that regulate chemicals found in childrens’ products. Minnesota’s statute bans formaldehyde and chemicals that release formaldehyde, and Washington’s law places reporting requirements for children’s products that contain ingredients found on the state’s list of Chemicals of High Concern to Children.

EDF’s report recommends that manufacturers make hazard assessments a priority in developing new products, and avoid introducing a new hazard in an effort to minimize another. The organization also called for the creation of an independent assessment clearinghouse online to compare the safety of chemicals.

“EDF’s baseline information on preservatives can help companies make more informed choices and deliver more sustainable innovations,” Zach Freeze, senior director of sustainability at Walmart, said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington, D.C. at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at

For More Information

The Environmental Defense Fund report is available at

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