Does This Settlement Spell Trouble for Dow and DuPont?

Dozens of leading cosmetics companies agreed last month to a lawsuit settlement even though the trial attorneys suing them admit there is no evidence of any risk to human health. While Revlon, L'Oreal , and over one hundred other manufacturers are responsible for the outcome of the case, it might be Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) and DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) that feel its effects.

Wielding California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act like a cudgel, the lawyers attacked manufacturers of cosmetics, sunscreen, skincare products, soap, and shampoo for using titanium dioxide, or TiO2, in their formulations and not warning consumers of its presence. The California law added TiO2 as a chemical known to cause cancer despite their being no such proof a link exists.

The chemical is the whitest substance on Earth. It's used in everything from sunscreen and toothpaste to food coloring and vehicle coatings. The milk you drink is whitened with it, an Oreo's creme is brighter because of it, and a whole host of non-white foods use it as an additive and flavor enhancer. Paint, in particular, has greater opacity because of TiO2, much better than either zinc or lead, though it also leads to chalkiness and reduced adhesion.

Four companies produce the bulk of the world's titanium dioxide supply with DuPont being the world's largest and DuPont coming in second. Kronos Worldwide and Huntsman are tied for third place with a 10% share while Tronox is the world's largest fully integrated producer.

Paints and coatings are by far the largest industrial consumers of the pigment, accounting for more than half of all demand, while plastics are a distant second, and paper is further behind in third. Inks, ceramics, cosmetics, and textiles also use it in varying degrees, though in much lower quantities. 

The supposed risk of TiO2 comes from airborne particles primarily in dusty environments where production workers, such as those involved in its packing, milling, site cleaning, or maintenance can inhale it. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Cancer Research said there's a possibility such conditions could be a cause for cancer, but further research was needed. California, however, took that ball and ran with it concluding it was therefore a known cancer-causing agent. But the IARC's conclusions were reached in part based on studies where rats were exposed to fine, airborne particles for as long as 10 hours a day, five days a week.

That's different than the use of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, about which there's a lot of contention over their safety, and Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ: DNKN  ) was recently the target of a shareholder resolution calling for it to identify which donuts it used them on. 

The dusty production conditions are also a much different situation than what some woman applying cosmetics to her face is going to confront, and it's why the trial lawyers had to admit there was no proof that what they were using was actually a danger. They note they're "not saying that powder cosmetic products are necessarily unsafe, but it does want to raise awareness" and push for further study. Their contention is that until such studies are completed, manufacturers either need to label the risk on their products or remove them from their formulations.

And that's what the cosmetics makers have agreed to do, agreeing to relabel their cosmetics or remove the offending ingredient. No dollar figure was disclosed, but last year Nu Skin Enterprises (NYSE: NUS  ) agreed to pay the same lawyers $19,500 for a similar violation, and various other cosmetics companies agreed to settle as well for varying amounts.

So while the actual dollar damages might not be particularly significant, the cost of the recall could add up and the titanium dioxide producers, already coping with a collapse in pricing, may just find another outlet for their product closed off. It likely won't be a significant hit, but it's also one that doesn't seem to have been needed to be taken in the first place.


Your credit card may soon be completely worthless
The plastic in your wallet is about to go the way of the typewriter, the VCR, and the 8-track tape player. When it does, a handful of investors could stand to get very rich. You can join them -- but you must act now. An eye-opening new presentation reveals the full story on why your credit card is about to be worthless -- and highlights one little-known company sitting at the epicenter of an earth-shaking movement that could hand early investors the kind of profits we haven't seen since the dot-com days. Click here to watch this stunning video.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2014, at 8:54 PM, funfundvierzig wrote:

    When it comes to harmful toxicity and carcinogenicity, DuPont Management, in particular has long sordid history of misrepresentation and cover-ups.

    Take for example, the covert and callous pollution of the drinking water supplies of 100,000 unsuspecting residents in West Virginia and Ohio for two decades by DuPont with the insidiously vile Teflon chemical C8 or PFOA. For years DuPont's unethical Management claimed this extraordinarily toxic, cancer-causing Teflon chemical was perfectly safe and "humanly harmless". Not so at all according to numerous medical and scientific studies done pursuant to the settlement of a monumental class action lawsuit in West Virginia.


Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2991211, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 9/2/2015 2:40:30 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Rich Duprey

Rich has been a Fool since 1998 and writing for the site since 2004. After 20 years of patrolling the mean streets of suburbia, he hung up his badge and gun to take up a pen full time.

Having made the streets safe for Truth, Justice and Krispy Kreme donuts, he now patrols the markets looking for companies he can lock up as long-term holdings in a portfolio. So follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the most important industry news in retail and consumer products and other great stories.


Today's Market

updated 5 hours ago Sponsored by:
DOW 16,058.35 -469.68 -2.84%
S&P 500 1,913.85 -58.33 -2.96%
NASD 4,636.11 -140.40 -2.94%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

9/1/2015 4:02 PM
DD $50.02 Down -1.48 -2.87%
E.I. du Pont de Ne… CAPS Rating: ****
DNKN $49.44 Down -0.72 -1.44%
Dunkin' Brands Gro… CAPS Rating: ***
DOW $41.66 Down -2.10 -4.80%
The Dow Chemical C… CAPS Rating: ****
HUN $16.22 Down -0.31 -1.88%
Huntsman Corp CAPS Rating: *****
KRO $6.93 Down -0.48 -6.48%
Kronos Worldwide,… CAPS Rating: ***
LRLCY $33.44 Down -0.79 -2.31%
L'Oreal (ADR) CAPS Rating: ****
NUS $44.72 Down -0.96 -2.10%
Nu Skin Enterprise… CAPS Rating: **