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Gillette Removing Carcinogen From White-Out Fluids

September 28, 1989 GMT

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ The maker of Liquid Paper correction fluid agreed Thursday to remove a cancer-causing ingredient and pay $300,000 to settle a legal action brought by environmentalists.

Under the agreement filed in San Francisco Superior Court, Gillette Co. can continue to sell Liquid Paper containing the carcinogen until March 1, 1990, but must allow customers to exchange bottles for non-toxic alternatives.

The settlement was prompted by complaints that Gillette was exposing users to a cancer-causing chemical in the typewriter correction fluid without the warning required by state law Proposition 65.

″This is the way Proposition 65 was intended to work - not through endless legal battles, but by providing manufacturers with a strong incentive to stop using toxic chemicals in their products,″ California Attorney General John Van de Kamp said.

Proposition 65, passed by voters in November 1986, requires warnings on products that contain chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.

Van de Kamp said the case is the first in which a manufacturer had changed its product to avoid being subject to a Proposition 65 enforcement action.

Under the agreement, Boston-based Gillette does not admit any violation and is reformulating some of its products ″to avoid prolonged litigation and to eliminate further confusion and controversy,″ said a statement issued by a public relations firm representing the firm.

″The manufacturers of Liquid Paper are confident its products pose no health risks to consumers and meet all federal government safety standards,″ the statement said.

Environmental groups earlier this month contended that Liquid Paper, a ″white-out″ fluid used for correcting typing mistakes, was not warning customers that some products contain trichloroethylene, or TCE, and lead. TCE is on the state’s Proposition 65 list as a carcinogen and lead as a reproductive toxin.

The groups noted that not only don’t Liquid Paper bottles contain a warning, but they also say, ″Non-Hazardous When Used as Directed.″

The firm was relying on a toll-free 800-number posted in stores that consumers could call to get information on the product.

Van de Kamp said only two persons received the Liquid Paper warning message by making calls in the first year of the 800 number. A Sacramento County Superior Court judge last month ruled the 800 number was an inadequate warning system, but an industry group is appealing the decision.

The agreement pertains to the following Liquid Paper correction fluids: Bond White, Stock Colors, Thinner, Pen and Ink, Special Match and Paper Mate Office Products.

Gillette said it would place newspaper advertisements around California informing consumers the products contain the chemical and they can exchange bottles for some non-toxic alternative products. The water-based substitutes are Liquid Paper Just for Copies Opaquing Fluid and Liquid Paper Mistake Out.

Gillette also will pay the state $275,000 in civil penalties and $25,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs, which go to the environmentalist groups that brought the complaint.

If the company manufactures the carcinogen-containing product after next Feb. 1 or sells it after March 1 it will have to pay an additional $50,000 a month in penalties, to a maximum of $1 million.

David Roe of Environmental Defense Fund praised Gillette for acting ″very quickly and responsibly in finding a new way to make these products that avoids Proposition 65 chemicals.″

″This sets a precedent for getting casual carcinogens out of our daily lives,″ Roe said.