SAN DIEGO - The Food and Drug Administration is in hot water over an ingredient found in hair straightening products. On Wednesday, the Environmental Working Group and Women's Voices for the Earth sued FDA Administration for failing to protect the public from dangers associated with the toxic ingredient.
The groups claim that the FDA has failed to adequately respond to the concerns raised about the health risks salon keratin hair products containing Formaldehyde pose.
"There's the false assumption that because it is still available that it's safe," Jamie McConnell with Women's Voices for the Earth said. "And that's why we're really asking the FDA, telling them, that they need to take action immediately, now. They can't wait any longer."
McConnell says the high levels of Formaldehyde, a potent allergen and human carcinogen, make many keratin hair straightening treatments a serious health threat to both clients and salon workers. These treatments involve liquids applied to hair in the salon, which are then heated using blow dryers and straightening irons. The high temperatures of these hair styling tools cause the release of Formaldehyde from the liquids into the air.
Stylist Maymi Amano Sappington says she had a bad reaction to it while she was working next to another stylist in Los Angeles who was doing a hair straightening treatment on a customer.
"The fumes came out so I started smelling it and I noticed 'uh oh, I better stay away' because I'm very sensitive with the scent," Sappington said. "I couldn't not stop coughing all day and next morning I completely lost my voice. I couldn't even inhale air."
EWG says they filed a citizen petition, or formal request, in 2011 that the FD investigate the products and take appropriate action. McConnell says in the last five years the FDA has not issued a final response to that letter, nor has it taken any significant action against makers of the products.
The lawsuit asks the court to order FDA action by setting and enforcing a deadline for the agency to investigate and respond to the petition.
"It's absolutely frustrating," McConnell said. "But more than it being frustrating, it's heartbreaking. Because I talk to salon workers every week who have had to leave their jobs because of health problems."
The groups hope a court order will motivate the agency to finally protect salon workers and the public from these dangerous products.
"Itchy, burning eyes, sore throat bloody noses. And those are documented health effects," McConnel said. "And then what I hear from the salon workers, they're reporting exactly the same symptoms. So you know, they're not making it up, it's real, it's a real problem."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration can issue citations to salons where the procedure is offered if Formaldehyde released into the air exceeds permissible limits.
The FDA is still investigating and so far has not responded to the lawsuit.