New Concerns Raised About Yellow Dyes

Study finds dye in everyday products could be harmful to health.

ByABC News
February 23, 2014, 2:47 PM

Feb. 23, 2014— -- Next time you buy a bath towel, T-shirt or even notepad, you might want to think twice before picking the color.

A new study by Rutgers University found that yellow dyes found in many common household products and items could contain a potentially harmful chemical that may be bad for your health.

That chemical is PCB 11, which is regularly found in yellow dyes in printing inks, paper, paint and clothing, said Lisa Rodenburg, one of the study's authors and associate professor in environmental chemistry at Rutgers.

While researchers said they need to conduct further study on the toxicity of PCB 11 specifically, previous studies have linked PCBs in general with irritations, cancer, birth defects and developmental problems in children and even very bad acne.

"PCBs cause a whole range of really worrisome health problems," Rodenburg said in an interview today with "Good Morning America." "There is enough evidence that there could be health effects from this specific kind of PCB that we should investigate further."

But there's no easy solution. Even if consumers make an effort to avoid yellow-colored products, they're still inadvertently exposed to the toxins, which are leaching into the air and water, and eventually into human bodies, Rodenburg said.

"That's the scariest thing about this," said concerned mother Michelle Noehres. "We're talking about the color yellow, which is in so many things. You can't really shop your way out of that."

"We know that everyone is going to be exposed to these things sooner than later. You can't really avoid contact with every printed material in the world," Rodenburg said. "The PCBs get out of that printed material and they get into the air, so whether you like it or not everyone is breathing this stuff in."

Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1979 banning PCBs after the chemical began showing up in fish and wildlife, Rodenburg said. But lawmakers realized quickly there was no way to regulate the inadvertent production of the chemical and so created a legal loophole to permit its accidental production.

"Technically speaking these PCBs are banned," Rodenburg said. "These chemical pigments are covered under TOSCA. It is just they are allowed at very low levels."

Rodenburg said she did not want to alarm the public, and the chemical is not found in every yellow item.

The researchers tested common consumer goods and found PCB 11 in all 16 pieces of the yellow-printed clothing they tested, as well as all 28 paper samples containing ink, including maps, glossy magazine advertisements, postcards, and colored newsprint. The study also found the chemical in 15 out of 18 paper goods manufactured in the U.S.

According to other research, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, it is found in everything ranging from food packaging to plastic bags.

"I don't think that people should be terrified of this, but I think it is important to be aware of what is going on and to try to do something about it through the law," Rodenburg said.