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State moves to ban toxic chemicals in cosmetic products

Cosmetic products containing nine toxic chemicals already removed from some retail shelves would be banned under a House-passed bill currently in the Senate.

Substitute House Bill 1047, by Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, passed the House with a 55-41 vote and would restrict the manufacture, sale and distribution of cosmetic products containing certain chemicals as an intentionally added ingredient, beginning Jan. 1, 2025.

“The chemicals we’re talking about, nine chemicals and classes of toxic chemicals, are things that we know are bad because we’ve studied them…, we know them, we know they have harmful effects,” she said. “We’re talking about things that we know can cause brain damage, reproductive issues, and in some cases, cancer.”

While the bill passed the House with a mixed vote, Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said it had a favorable hearing in the Senate and believes it has a good chance of passing.

There are nine restricted chemicals under the bill, which would include ortho-phthalates, methylene glycol, mercury, triclosan, formaldehyde and others.

Mena said this bill passed the Senate last year but was turned into a study.

“I was really eager to take this up and finish the work, and go through with the actual ban,” she said.

Under the bill, the Department of Ecology would be required to identify and assess the hazards of chemicals that provide a similar function for cosmetics as the prohibited chemicals, in consultation with the Department of Health by June 1, 2024.

The nine cosmetic chemicals cause harm to both people and the environment, and some national chain stores sell products intentionally created with these chemicals, according to a study conducted by the Department of Ecology.

The Department of Ecology concluded some of the most toxic cosmetics are specifically marketed to people of color. Hair relaxers and skin lighteners often contain these harsh chemicals, Mena said.

Products like hair relaxers, which relax curls to make hair straight, are packed with formaldehyde, she said. The Department of Ecology’s toxicology report showed products like foundation with darker pigments can be a concern.

The Department of Ecology tested multiple products for formaldehyde in their study; the chemical was found in seven out of 10 skin lotions, nine out of 10 leave-in conditioners and all 10 hair styling gels they tested.

A children’s detangler product found at Dollar Tree contained formaldehyde as well, according to the study.

Products that contain formaldehyde with concentrations over 200 parts-per notation could cause allergic reactions. The Department of Ecology detected more than 200 ppm in 24 of 26 products in their study.

Formaldehyde causes cancer and reactions toxic to mammals and is used in personal care products that prevent bacterial growth, according to the study.

The chemical can be found in nail polish, hair-smoothing products, body wash and makeup, according to the study. It is found in 26 out of 30 body lotions and hair products tested in the study.

Lead, which can cause cancer and damage to the brain and nervous system, was detected in some powder foundations and lipstick, according to the study.

Under the bill, the manufacture, distribution and sale of any cosmetic product that contains lead as an intentionally added ingredient would be prohibited beginning Jan. 1, 2025, along with the other nine chemicals.

Ortho-phthalates can cause cancer, reproductive harm and are extremely toxic to aquatic life, and some people are concerned the chemical is being applied to sensitive areas such as feminine hygiene products, according to the study.

Other chemicals banned under the bill can cause harm by not breaking down quickly in the environment and can cause allergic reactions when in contact with skin and non-lethal damages to organs, according to the study.

Peter Godlewski, of the Association of Washington Business, said he was concerned about the bill being enforced at the retail level because retailers might not be aware of the different chemistry of the products on their shelves.

Manufacturers would understand the chemistry of certain products, and he said the bill should be enforced at the manufacturing level because of this.

Godlewski said the AWB also had an issue with formaldehyde releasing agents included in the definition of formaldehyde under the bill.

The agents are not the same as formaldehyde and serve an important role for the safety of the products they are contained in, he said.

SHB 1047 has been amended to require the Department of Ecology to provide a list of chemicals in cosmetics that release formaldehyde and may be subject to restriction.

The bill has also been amended to authorize the Department of Ecology to identify a restriction of a maximum of ten of those listed chemicals, which would need to take effect after Jan. 1, 2026. Restrictions on remaining chemicals would take place after Jan. 1, 2027.

Initially, cosmetologists were concerned about products with these chemicals being banned and were worried about how the ban would impact their businesses, and felt they needed more security, Mena said.

But the bill has been amended to address these concerns and would now include a grant program to buy out all of the old products and replace them with safer products, she said.

The Department of Ecology would also be required to implement an initiative to support small businesses in obtaining voluntary health certifications designed to identify cosmetic products without hazards by May 2024.

An initiative to support independent cosmetologists and small businesses providing cosmetology services will be needed by May 2024 in an effort to transition to safer cosmetic products.

When people think of cosmetics, they sometimes just think of products such as lipstick, eyeliner or eyeshadow, Mena said. But, a broad range of products, including shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, lotion and sunscreen are included under the definition.

There are safe alternatives that are on the market already, and companies are already moving toward those alternatives proactively, Mena said.

“There are retailers like Target and Walmart who already banned these chemicals, and what that says to me is that there are affordable alternatives already on the market,” she said.

If the bill passes Legislature, there would be a $470,000 impact in the 2023-25 biennium, and a $917,000 impact over the next four years.

Total costs resulting from the bill are expected to be $1.6 million in the 2023-25 biennium, and $3.8 million over four years.

The costs would come from the Department of Health, Department of Ecology and the Environmental and Land Use Hearings Office.

The costs from the Department of Ecology would be used for enforcing compliance testing, hazard assessments and providing assistance to small businesses who manufacture cosmetics. The House Operating Budget has these costs booked at $1.1 to $4 million.

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