Central Valley

Illegal styling products targeted in Stanislaus, San Joaquin Counties

Call it "Hairspray: The Lawsuit."

The Stanislaus County district attorney's office is holding firm against unlawful hair products by taking part in a statewide lawsuit against several national retailers who stock beauty supplies alleged to violate California environmental law.

The lawsuit, filed in early 2008, seeks penalties of at least $17 million, with amounts to be levied based on each day a prohibited hair product is offered for sale, according to court papers.

District attorneys from Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Sacramento, San Bernardino and Solano counties have joined in the lawsuit, and the state attorney general's office represents the rest of the state.

An October hearing has been set to try to settle the case, which names Longs Drug Stores, Target, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Ralphs, among other defendants.

The hair products — including some sold at Raley's, Longs and Rite Aid stores in Modesto, Turlock, Ceres and Escalon — were found to contain elevated amounts of smog-forming volatile organic compounds, state environmental authorities said.

These chemicals in the hairsprays, gels, mousses and other styling products cause emissions that "degrade air quality, increase greenhouse gases and harm human health," the lawsuit reads.

Investigators with the California Air Resources Board found 11 violations at Stanislaus and San Joaquin county drugstores and supermarkets.

"There are dozens of these stores in Central Valley counties supplying hundreds or thousands of products per year," said Matthew Maclear, an attorney with the California District Attorneys Association who prosecutes environmental cases for rural California counties.

"We don't want people using illegal consumer products in their house that could potentially hurt their families, nor do we want consumers using products that can make the air we share worse," Maclear said.

Five of Rite Aid's area stores were found to stock products that violate state limits on VOC content, according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Alexander Medina, who represents Rite Aid in the lawsuit, did not return calls for comment. Officials from Rite Aid and Longs, which is now CVS, also did not respond.

The lawsuit names a New Jersey-based company that provides the products to the retail stores — without authorization from the brand manufacturers.

The products are meant to be distributed only by authorized salons or wholesalers, Maclear said. Officials are not clear where Pro's Choice Beauty Care Inc. gets its products.

Because California's air quality standards are the most stringent in the nation, products formulated for other parts of the country and world that should not be distributed in California make their way here through unauthorized channels, Maclear said.

While the amount of VOCs in each product is small, Californians use more than a half- billion items that contain them each year, including deodorants, hairspray, cleaning products, spray paint and insecticides, according to the Air Resources Board.

VOCs create ozone, which has found been found to contribute to asthma, other respiratory diseases and cardiovascular problems, said Dimitri Stanich, Air Resources Board spokesman.

Stanich said the air pollution created by VOCs should be of special concern to residents in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

"All the air pollution is trapped and stays there for a long period of time," Stanich said. "It benefits everyone in the area to quickly reduce those emissions."

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.