NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — You probably know that formaldehyde is a key component of embalming fluid. But are you aware that it's also been found in a leading brand of baby shampoo—and not as a random contaminant?

Johnson & Johnson has just announced that its one hundred baby products, including the popular No More Tears shampoo, have been purged of formaldehyde, as well as 1,4-dioxane. (Almost: levels of the latter have been reduced to trace amounts.) Under pressure from consumers, who wondered what carcinogens were doing in child care products, J&J vowed two years ago to get rid of the chemicals. Famous for its use in the preservation of dead bodies, formaldehyde is released by preservatives found in many cosmetics; 1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of the process that makes cleansing agents in personal care products less abrasive.

J&J maintains that the chemicals are safe, according to the New York Times , even as it has spent tens of millions of dollars to eliminate them. (By 2015, the company pledges, all of its consumer products will be free of so-called chemicals of concern.) Neither formaldehyde nor 1,4-dioxane were listed on product labels, since they weren't technically ingredients; synthetic compounds used for fragrance, which are also set to be phased out, have gone undisclosed as well.

While it's especially shocking to learn of the presence in baby shampoo of a compound known to cause cancer in human beings, and associated with pickling corpses, this is just the tip of the toxic iceberg in terms of the noxious chemicals to which we are exposed every day (or nearly so). Household products harbor hundreds of synthetic compounds, the vast majority of which have never been adequately tested to determine their effects on human health (to say nothing of how they act in combination). Formaldehyde, for one, is also found in carpeting, soaps and detergents, cabinetry, and glues. Here are nine other chemicals of concern that are not just all around you, but inside of you as well.


These plasticizers are all over the place. One billion tons are produced each year, and they go into (among other things) children's toys, pharmaceutical tablets, shower curtains, adhesives, food packaging and fragrances used in all manner of cleaning products, personal and otherwise. What's troubling: phthalates are easily released into the environment, and they seem to act like hormones in the human body. Possible consequences include (in males) genital deformities, sterility and diabetes, and (in females) premature births, early puberty and breast cancer. Links have also been found with allergies and asthma.


An antimicrobial agent, triclosan was originally intended for use in hospitals, but soon found its way into a wide variety of consumer products: toothpaste, cutting boards, shoes, trash bags and antibacterial soaps. As a result, triclosan is now in all sorts of places it shouldn't be: in the bile of wild fish exposed to wastewater, in human breast milk and in nearly 75% of urine samples tested in 2008.