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Cancer In A Can: The industry's options

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In a document dated March 13, 1973, VCM maker Allied Chemical received startlingly frank advice on this dilemma. After a brief review of the uses, hazards, history, legal exposures, and possible developments of the VCM aerosol propellant issue, the document concludes with the "Options open to Allied Chemical."

Quoted Text
(view entire document)

All evidence suggests that Allied Chemical chose "c.1.," a passive withdrawal from the market. The company simply stopped selling VCM as an aerosol propellant, only making "personal visits to substantial fillers" to discreetly advise its biggest customers why they were cutting them off. (view entire document)

Allied, and some other VCM manufacturers, also did something very strange for a profit-driven company: They deliberately raised the price of VCM to discourage sales. "All indications [were] that the use of VC [as an aerosol propellant were] ended for financial reasons." (view entire document) At the time, observant public health scientists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health wondered: "Why did they do that unless they suspected something wrong?" (Today's Health, September 1974, pp. 71-72) (view entire document) NIOSH found out ten months later.

In January 1974, B.F. Goodrich disclosed the results of studies linking VCM exposure to cancer in rats. This information led to a recall of 100,000 bottles of Clairol products, an FDA ban on VCM use in drugs and cosmetics (view entire document), a similar ban by EPA for pesticides (view entire document), and a ban by the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC). (view entire document)

By then, of course, the chemical industry had allowed years and years of VCM usage with the full knowledge that it posed a risk of cancer to tens of thousands of women working as beauticians. How many of them developed cancer as a result? We still don't know.

More than 25 years later, many beauty products, from nail polish to shampoo, still contain chemicals that either lack rigorous, independent health testing for safety or are allowed in beauty products despite known hazards to human health. EWG's January 2001 Beauty Secrets report tells the story of one such chemical in cosmetics.

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last updated: march.27.2009

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