FDA Sued To Prevent Formaldehyde Exposure To Consumers, Salon Employees

Two consumer advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), after the agency failed to respond to a petition calling for certain hair products containing formaldehyde to be removed from the market. 

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Women’s Voices for the Earth filed the complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on December 14, demanding a response to a 2011 formal request that the FDA remove potential allergens and human carcinogens from popular hair straightening products, indicating that they pose health hazards to both consumers and salon workers.

The 2011 petition was filed by the EWG, which is an American environmental organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability.

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“For years stylists have reported that the application of these hair treatments caused difficulty breathing, eye irritation and nosebleeds,” Tina Sigurdson, EWG assistant general counsel, said in a press release. “The FDA has been aware of the health hazards associated with the products since at least 2008. Despite these dangers, the FDA has yet to take action to remove them from the market.”

The lawsuit was filed against the FDA for its failure to address the 2011 petition to remove or regulate the levels of formaldehyde in salon keratin hair products. According to the lawsuit, the FDA has been aware of the health hazards associated with formaldehyde exposure to humans since 2008, and despite the known dangers has refused to further regulate or remove the products from the market.

Overexposure to formaldehyde can be harmful to humans with short term symptoms known to cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and sinuses. Other acute exposures to formaldehyde have been known to cause burning, itching, dryness and redness of the eyes, nasal dryness, soreness, sore throat, wheezing, and shortness of breath, chest pains and even bronchitis.

The long-term effects of formaldehyde exposure are less known, however research over the last few decades indicates that it is a cancer-causing agent.

In the early 1980’s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was notified by scientists performing independent studies that linked the exposure of formaldehyde to nasal cancer in lab rats. After analyzing the studies the EPA had classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under prolonger or extended periods of exposure.

By 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen, and the National Toxicology Program of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) named formaldehyde as a known and definite carcinogen to humans possible to cause cancer.

Currently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is able to issue citations to salons where the formaldehyde levels in the air exceed permissible limits. However, after years of complaints of severe irritations reported from workers in the cosmetic industry, the FDA has yet to generate further regulation or restrict the use of formaldehyde from the products themselves.

The lawsuit filed by the EWG claims the FDA failed its duty to reasonably respond to the 2011 petition and is allegedly negligent for allowing the exposure to continuously put salon workers in jeopardy for over eight years while knowing the risks.

The EWG is hopeful that its lawsuit against the FDA will enforce a deadline for the agency to investigate and respond accordingly to the petition.


  • DAwnDecember 28, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Please can I be part of yr lawsuit.i have been affective

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