Skip to main content
Cassidy Randall's picture

An open letter from Women's Voices for the Earth to one of the biggest consumer product companies on the planet: make the obvious moral decision to remove a cancer-causing chemical from Tide® and Tide Free & Gentle®.


Dear Mr. McDonald,

We’d like to point out some serious discrepancies between P&G’s stated principles and its toxic products.

The Procter & Gamble website proudly displays a quote from its founder, front and center, regarding product safety:

"Throughout our history, P&G has believed that the safety of our products is a prerequisite for responsible business. Our co-founder, James Gamble, stated in the mid-1800s that ‘if you cannot make pure goods and full weight, go to something else that is honest, even if it is breaking stone.’ "

What an admirable moral statement to build a company on!

How unfortunate that P&G doesn’t always follow it. Your company is blatantly turning its back on its founder’s ideals by refusing to remove 1,4-dioxane—a known cancer-causing chemical—from Tide® and Tide Free & Gentle®.

Your company claims that it will never compromise on its promise to ensure high quality, safe products. But that’s exactly what P&G is doing with your top-selling detergents. 1,4-dioxane is an impurity—a  contaminant—not an intentionally-added ingredient, making Tide® and Tide Free & Gentle® a far cry from “pure.”

So, since you’ve strayed from the moral foundation on which your company was built, let us help you make the right decision by stating the obvious moral
reasons to remove a hazardous contaminant from your popular detergents.

       1.    1,4-dioxane is a known cancer-causing chemical.

This chemical has been linked to cancer by the EPA and is on California’s Proposition 65 list of known carcinogens.

       2. There is no “safe level” of a cancer-causing chemical.

Let’s spend a little bit of time on this one – because it’s really important.

Your company keeps sending us letters with assurances from your scientists that the levels of 1,4-dioxane in your products are “safe.” But here’s the thing about your approach: you come at this from a risk assessment standpoint, asking “how much of this chemical can we use before it’s likely to cause someone cancer?” Risk assessment is always a best guess based on what scientists know at the moment, mixed with some generalized assumptions about exposure, and then correlated with some best guesses on how an “average” person might respond to that exposure. That’s quite a guessing game.

And risk assessment doesn’t take into account that consumers use other products that contain chemicals linked to cancer, even other P&G products, at the same time. For example, putting Bounce® dryer sheets –which also tested positive for 1,4-dioxane –in with Tide® detergent in the laundry. Maybe you’ve come up with a “safe level” in Tide®, but how does that jive with the “safe level” of the same chemical in Bounce®? Now we’re just adding up exposures to cancer-causing chemicals.

And remember, we’re talking about cancer. We are talking about a chemical linked to a disease that kills millions of people in this country. And we’re talking about Tide® – used by millions of people. With those numbers, you are bound to encounter people who are not going to respond to 1,4-dioxane like the “average” person.

But the bottom line is that we are not interested in engaging in a debate between our scientists and your scientists on competing risk assessments of your product. Arguments over numbers based on assumptions and best guesses aren’t going to save any lives. What saves lives is not using chemicals linked to cancer.

       3.    There’s no reason for 1,4-dioxane to be there.

1,4-dioxane is a contaminant, which means it’s not an intentionally added ingredient. It serves no purpose in the product.

       4.    You know it’s there, you know how to take it out, and you’ve done it before.

It’s not like we’re telling you something you don’t know. Your scientists expect 1,4-dioxane as a contaminant in the product, and the company has readily admitted that it’s there. And your team of 700 scientists has the knowledge and technology to remove it; they did it in 2010 with your Herbal Essences® shampoo.

We have no doubt that such a well-respected, robust group of scientists can figure out how to get the same chemical out of Tide®. In context, this is truly a minimal amount of effort for one of the biggest and most profitable consumer product companies on the planet.

       5.    Your consumers are concerned about the risk and are asking you to take it out.

Nearly 80,000 people have contacted you, asking you to remove this chemical. Dozens of health organizations have asked you to take it out. Morally, don’t you have an obligation to respond to your consumers’ concerns?

Take a cue from Johnson & Johnson, which just last month announced it was removing 1,4-dioxane from all of its products, worldwide. J&J maintained that the chemical was safe (no doubt they have scientists who crunch numbers too), but they chose to remove it because their consumers asked them to. Their website states: “Many people have expressed their concern, and we want you to have complete confidence that the levels in our beauty and baby care products are extremely low.”

Doesn’t P&G want your consumers to have complete confidence in your products?

J&J was able to reduce levels of 1,4-dioxane to less than 4 parts per million. If J&J’s team of scientists can do it, can’t P&G’s? J&J responded to the concerns of its customers because they listened and they cared. P&G can, and should, do the same.


So, let’s recap. Currently, P&G is significantly deviating from James Gamble’s proud philosophy by knowingly allowing a cancer-causing impurity in its top-selling detergents, apparently just to save a few bucks.

This is a question of the integrity of P&G’s promise to its customers. Knowing that the potential for risk exists, is P&G willing to take this simple step to eliminate an unnecessary danger from the lives of millions of people who buy your products? 

You hold this ability in your hands, Mr. McDonald. We hope you make the right decision.


To readers: Want to take action? Ask Procter & Gamble to strip a cancer-causing chemical out of Tide® and Tide Free & Gentle®!


The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of strongly encourages our readers to post comments in response to blog posts. We value diversity of opinions and perspectives. Our goals for this space are to be educational, thought-provoking, and respectful. So we actively moderate comments and we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that undermine these goals. Thanks!