Coal Tar Lawsuit #7

This is a reprint of the seventh of eight documents originally published by the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) regarding the 2000-2002 lawsuit in California over coal-tar products and Prop 65.


Pending lawsuit settlement in California sets restrictions on coal tar products

Consumers may lose choices in shampoos and other over-the-counter products

Several coal tar shampoo manufacturers accused in a California lawsuit of knowingly exposing consumers to cancer-causing agents have agreed to settle the case. During a settlement conference on Dec. 18, 2001, the companies consented to place cancer warnings on their over-the-counter coal tar shampoos, lotions and creams with concentrations of tar above 0.05 percent.

The settlement calls for the warning labels to be placed on the shampoos by March 31 and on the lotions and creams by Feb. 20. The labels would read: “Warning: This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer.”

According to California Deputy Attorney General Sue Fiering, the settlement will not be official until all parties, including the judge, have consented to the terms and formally approved it. However, the steps that remain are procedural, she said.

Ms. Fiering told the NPF that the companies also will pay varying penalties. Neutrogena, makers of T/Gel Extra Strength Shampoo (coal tar 1%) will pay the largest penalty of $240,000. Other companies involved in this settlement are Healthpoint (Ionil T Plus Shampoo and Ionil T Shampoo), Block (Tegrin Medicated Advanced) and Triton (MG 217).

Options beyond warning labels

Rather than place a cancer warning on their products, some companies may decide to discontinue the product altogether, according to an article in Dec. 21, 2001, edition of The San Francisco Chronicle. Neutrogena officials reportedly said there is no scientific basis for adding additional cancer-causing warnings on these products, and announced the company’s extra strength shampoo would be removed from the market.

Another option companies may choose is to replace coal tar with another active ingredient, such as salicylic acid. Earlier in the case, Whitehall-Robins agreed to a settlement to reduce by mid December the concentration of coal tar in Denorex. Ultimately, the company decided to remove coal tar completely and replace it with salicylic acid. Whitehall also agreed to pay $400,000 in penalties.


The tentative settlements follow a judged decision in early December 2001 to deny the manufacturers’ request to throw the case out for lack of evidence. The lawsuit was filed under Proposition 65, a state law passed by voters in 1986 requiring products that contain chemicals “known to the state” to cause cancer to have warnings.

The NPF has been following the coal tar lawsuit since early 2001. These articles contain additional details:

·Original NPF article on the California coal tar lawsuit, published online in March 2001.
·Update, July 2001
·Update, October 2001, including details on the change in Denorex’s formula.
·Update, December 2001, including information on motion for dismissal and the NPF’s advocacy efforts to oppose the lawsuit.

The NPF and its Medical Advisory Board recognize that OTC coal tar shampoos and skin-care products are a valuable and relatively inexpensive therapeutic option for people who have psoriasis, especially those who have mild to moderate involvement. We are committed to preserving the availability of all safe and effective psoriasis therapies, and to safeguarding the right of people with psoriasis to make educated choices from among those therapies.

The NPF will continue to monitor this situation and publish updates on the Web, as well as in our member publications, the Bulletin and Psoriasis Resource.

First posted and last updated Jan. 3, 2002

This document was reprinted with the permission of the National Psoriasis Foundation. The original can still be found in the Internet Archive.

Coal tar lawsuit documents

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