CAP: Ban antibacterial agents that are harmful to health and environment

The Consumers Association of Penang calls on the authorities to impose an immediate ban on triclosan and 18 other antibacterial agents as these chemicals are capable of causing harm to health and environment.

Studies have shown that triclosan affects thyroid, testosterone, and estrogen regulation, which can create a host of health problems such as early puberty, poor sperm quality, infertility, obesity, and cancer.  It can lead to impaired learning and memory, exacerbate allergies, and weaken muscle function.

The impacts of prolonged exposure to triclosan during foetal development, infancy, and childhood can be particularly severe, resulting in permanent damage.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effect of triclosan as  prolonged exposure to the chemical have been shown to have a higher chance of developing allergies, including  peanut allergies and hay fever.

Triclosan is an ingredient added to many consumer products intended to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination and originally was used in the 1970s by surgeons to wash their hands before operations.

Since then, its use has expanded commercially and it is prevalent in soaps, toothpastes and in consumer products such clothing, kitchenware, furniture and toys.

In a CAP survey we found a wide range of products containing triclosan such as antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, hand washes, shower gels and even body shampoos for children.

We also found a wide range of products such as floor and toilet cleaning agents that claimed to be antibacterial but does not mention the chemical present. As the laws in Malaysia does not make it compulsory for manufacturers to label the chemical content of their products, consumers  do not know whether triclosan or other harmful chemicals are used.

Recently, the US banned triclosan and 18 other antibacterial agents in hand and body washes because there is no scientific evidence that products with such chemicals are better than plain soap and water in preventing illness or stopping the spread of certain infections. Such products have also not been proven safe for long-term daily use.

The chemical is capable of penetrating the skin and enter the bloodstream easily.  A US government study found triclosan in the urine of 75% of subjects tested. It has also shown up in the breast milk of nursing mothers

Research has shown that triclosan is found throughout the environment. It has been found in water, soil, and even in fish. The worldwide contamination by triclosan raises the possibility that bacteria exposed to it could develop resistance, which can effects human health.

The purpose of using an anti-bacterial agent is to prevent transmission of disease-causing microorganisms. While triclosan has proven effective in preventing hospital acquired infections, there is no data demonstrating extra health benefits from having antibacterial-containing cleansers in a healthy household. A study of 200 healthy households found that those households that used anti bacterial products did not have any reduced risk from infectious disease.

In view of the health and environmental hazards associated with triclosan and 18 other antibacterial agents banned in the US. CAP calls on the authorities to prohibit the production, importation, distribution and sale of products containing these chemicals as they are capable of causing  harm to health and environment.

Consumers can stay protected from bacteria without antibacterial by following these simple guidelines:

– Wash hands frequently and thoroughly. Regular soap lowers the surface tension of water, helping to attach to and wash away unwanted bacteria. Lather the hands for at least 10 to 15 seconds and then rinse them off in warm water. It is important to wash the hands often, especially when handling food, before eating, after going to the toilet and when someone is sick in the house.

– Take time to teach children the correct way to wash their hands.

– Dry hands with clean towel to help brush off any germs that did not get washed away.

– Wash surfaces that come in contact with food with soap and water.

– Wash children’s hands and toys regularly to prevent infection

Press Statement, 4 October 2017                                




The CAP book published in 2006 highlighted the problem of use pig’s hair in bristle brushes.

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) had warned consumers as early as 1980s – three decades ago – and went on to publish a book titled Halal Haram on the subject of halal products in 2006 but the warning has fallen on deaf ears.

One of the products that CAP deliberated were paint brushes which has been lately reported in a Bahasa Malaysia daily. CAP would like to congratulate the Ministry of Domestic Trade Co-operatives and Consumerism (KPDNKK) for following up on the discovery of the 90 paint brushes.We hope that harsh action will be taken against the perpetrators.

Generally, brushes made from pig’s bristles are labelled as ‘pure bristles’ and may range from paint brushes to brushes for songkok, shoes, toothbrushes, and shaving brushes.

Brushes made from pig’s bristles are comparatively much cheaper than those manufactured from hair of horses and donkeys. Moreover, the bristles are better at retaining paint.

Apart from brushes, some branded expensive bags are also made from pig leather. However, it is commonly used in products from China and other developing countries.

Other items that are made from pig’s skin include leather gloves, jackets, shoes, handbags, and wallets.

Most pig leather looks like suede leather (from cow hide) but has spots that look like depress points or small holes.

Another item to safely stay away is crockery labelled as “fine bone china” because is made from animal bones. Muslims are advised to use crockery made from either glass or ceramic.

CAP would reiterate our call to the government to create a separate Halal/Haram Act to deal with the issue and place it under the jurisdiction of the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (JAKIM) and for the Muslim community to be more diligent when buying products that may contain haram substances.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR, 6 February 2017

CAP: Eliminate Lead in Paints

The Consumers Association of Penang calls on the authorities to eliminate lead in paints. In our latest test on paints we found more than 60% of the samples tested contained exceedingly high lead levels.

In a test conducted by CAP and IPEN (International POPS Elimination Network), 39 cans of solvent-based enamel decorative paint were  purchased  from various stores in several towns in the states of Kedah and Penang. The paints represented 18 different brands produced by 17 manufacturers. Samples from these paints were analysed by an accredited laboratory in the USA for total lead content.

Key findings from the test include:

·   Sixteen out of 39 enamel decorative paints contained a total lead concentration above 600 ppm (parts per million). Twelve samples contained dangerously high concentrations of lead above 10,000 ppm. The highest lead concentration detected was 150,000 ppm.

·   Eleven of 18 analysed  brands sold at least one paint with lead concentrations above 10,000 ppm including brands from multinational companies.

·   Yellow paints were the most hazardous with 12 of 19 samples of yellow-coloured paints had  lead concentrations greater than 10,000 ppm. In addition, this study also included 12 samples of red paints and eight white paints.

In general, paint can labels did not carry meaningful information about lead content or the hazards of paint with high lead content and some paints with high lead concentrations were falsely advertised as being “low lead.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls lead paint “a major flashpoint” for children’s potential lead poisoning and says that “since the phase-out of leaded petrol, lead paint is one of the largest sources of exposure to lead in children.” Children are exposed to lead when painted surfaces deteriorate over time and contaminate household dust and soils. Children, ages 0-6, engaging in normal hand-to-mouth behaviors are most at risk of damage to their intelligence and mental development from exposure to lead dust and soil.

The health impacts of lead exposure on young children’s brains are lifelong, irreversible and untreatable, Lead is also introduced into the gastrointestinal tract when children chew on objects such as toys, household furniture or other articles painted with lead paint. Continued use of lead paint is a primary source of childhood lead exposure. Urgent measures need to be taken to reduce critical sources of lead exposure to young children.

A previous study conducted by CAP in 1992 found that seven out of nine enamel paints  contained lead above 600 parts per million The highest amount of lead in that study was  only 11,700 ppm.

In another earlier study of lead content in paints in Malaysia, seventy-two enamel paints purchased in Malaysia during the years 2004 to 2007 were analysed for total lead content. Results from this study were similar to those in the current study.

Presently there is no regulation in Malaysia limiting the amount of lead in paint for household and decorative use. Most highly industrial countries adopted laws or regulations to control lead in paints.

This study also found that some companies have falsely advertised their product as “lead free” or “contains no added lead. Stringent enforcement is needed to take action against this type of violation and for misleading consumers

In view of the latest test, CAP calls on the authorities to:

·   Promulgate laws to eliminate lead in paints.

·   Strictly enforce the Trade Description Act as it was found that there were some paint companies that have blatantly violated the act.

As lead has a strong impact on children, immediate action need to be taken to safe guard our future generation.

Press Statement, 22 March 2016



Download report here.

Home exercise equipment – How useful?

RIDERS, walkers, treadmills, abdominal exercisers … fitness gadgets that allow you to exercise at your convenience and in the privacy of your own home are the "in" thing now.  Infomercials and advertisements convince you that the pricey gizmos you see are the ultimate item to own.

What is the whole truth about home exercise machines? For the puzzled and the perplexed, we compiled several interesting facts about some popular exercise equipment from Consumer Reports and Nutrition Action Healthletter as a guide.

WALKERS: Incomplete workout

TO use a walker, sometimes called a strider or glider, you position your feet on two platforms connected to swinging "legs". Most models also have arm levers connected to the "legs". These help you balance and also provide a way to exercise the upper body.  You work out by walking briskly with some resistance.  The effort combines walking and cross-country skiing.

Now for the bad news: Walkers offer a poor workout for people who are already fit.  At best they can be good for beginners (even then, dedicated beginners will outgrow this machinery); at worst, they break.  So says the US Consumers' Union (CU).  

The CU tested the durability, fit, and stability of each model, and judged the quality of the workout you'll get, among other factors.

Although the walkers tested were found to range from "fair" to "very good" at aerobic exercise, which gets your heart rate up in a "target" zone and strengthens the cardiovascular system, they were found to be "mediocre" for toning.

According to the CU, the resistance they offer isn't significant enough to really work your larger muscles.

3 walkers also failed the CU's durability test.  In the test, weights were attached to each foot platform of the walker and pneumatic pistons were used to push and pull the platforms 150,000 times.  The action simulated a 200-pound person using each walker for 50 hours (about a year's use).  

On one walker, a leg lever bowed and bent; on a second walker, the lever completely broke from the frame.  On a third walker, a metal linkage bar on the leg-lever mechanism bent on one sample and broke on another.  And the resistance pads on a fourth walker fell apart.  Although the pads are replaceable, the repair may be tough for the average user.

RIDERS: Beware of breakdowns

WITH riders, you sit on a seat, pull on a handlebar as you push out on pedals, and the machine lifts your body.  The exercise offers less-fit users a good toning workout and a reasonable aerobic one.  

The heavier you are or the faster you ride, the more strenuous the workout.  But as you lose weight and become more fit, the workout becomes less effective.  This is true even for the several models that let you add resistance by adding weights, changing the seat position, or regulating a shock absorber, says the CU.

The CU also cautions that riders are worse than walkers.    

"When we last tested riders, in January 1996, 2 out of 5 tested poor for durability.  This time, 5 out of 7 failed our test… Never before has exercise equipment we tested performed as poorly as riders," says CU in its January '98 issue of Consumer Reports.

Poor quality overshadowed other features on most riders.  When the CU attached weight to the seat and used pneumatic pistons to simulate a year's worth of use by a 200-pound person, welds broke on frame parts of 5 models.

Most of the failures would probably not have caused serious injury if someone had been riding.  But the breaks in 2 models could have made the seat collapse during use, causing the rider to fall.

In July last year, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of the ProForm rider, because it could collapse and cause injury if its safety stop is not used.

If you already have a rider, pay attention to the welds and linkages.  Creaking and wobbling could mean trouble.  If you see cracks or breaks in the steel, stop using the rider and contact the manufacturer.

In the CU's test, many machines were also found to chafe users' thighs, or the handlebars irritated hands.  

Exercising on a rider can stress your lower back if the exercise is done wrong, or if your lower-back muscles and hamstrings are very tight.  If you suffer from back problems, consult your doctor before using a rider.

Current and prospective users should also know of these potential problems:

  •  Instability.  Some models can tip if the user leans too far left or right.  Some can also tip backward if the seat is extended too far back and the user plunks down on it.
  •  Sharp edges.  Some models have rough metal edges in accessible areas.  The ProForm for example, has a metal clip that can cut your hand when you reach to adjust the shock absorber.
  •  Hot surfaces.  After a vigorous 20-minute workout, shock absorbers and friction pads on models that have them were hot enough to burn a hand adjusting them.

In terms of workout, riders/gliders don't give people who are already fit much of a workout, according to a study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) which sets certification standards for fitness professionals, reports Nutrition Action Healthletter.

For example: "Using the Fitness Flyer and Airofit air glider machine, the subjects, exercising at maximum effort, only reached a peak heart rate* of 155 beats per minute, equal to a quick walk or slow jog," notes exercise physiologist Richard Cotton, editor-in-chief of ACE's FitnessMatters newsletter.

"On average, a moderately fit male between the ages of 23 and 29, such as the subjects studied, should be able to reach a heart rate of at least 194 beats per minute during a peak-performance test."

[*Peak heart rate is when your heartbeat is in a high-end "target zone".  When you get your heart into that zone — for instance by jogging — you're doing aerobic exercise, the type that burns fat, raises HDL (the "good" cholesterol), and can strengthen your heart and lungs.

To calculate the low end of your zone, start with 220, subtract your age, then multiply by 0.70 (0.60 if you're new to exercise).  To calculate the high end of your zone, multiply instead by 0.85.]   

ACE also expressed concern about the back pain reported by 5 out of 7 participants after exercising on 2 types of rider/gliders — the Cardioglide and the HealthRider.  "This finding is significant," the study reports, "given the fact that all the participants were young healthy females with no previous history of back problems."  


THESE gadgets with names like Ab Blaster, Abflex, AbShaper and Ab Trainer, promise to take you from flabbiness to fabulous.

The catch?  There's nothing you can do with an ab machine that you can't do without one.  Plain old sit-ups and crunches done without any device can be every bit as effective at strengthening your abdominal muscles (see separate story on how to do it).

As for the claims that ab machines can magically take your stomach from fat to flat : pure bunk.

"To lose a pound of fat you need to burn about 3,500 fat calories and not put them back by eating more fat," says orthopaedic physical therapist Carol Hamilton of Frederick, Maryland.

"This takes more than 4,500 repetitions for about 71/2 hours on an ab machine.  Losing weight and slimming your stomach takes a combination of a balanced low-fat diet and regular aerobic exercise.

"Unless you push yourself away from the table and engage in aerobic, calorie-burning activities, the ab machine will do little to trim your waistline."

How to do an abdominal crunch

The best advice: Forget ab machines and simply do abdominal crunches. Here's how.

1.     Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.

2.     Cross your arms across your chest, or place your fingertips lightly behind your head. Contract your stomach muscles and tilt your pelvis up, then slowly curl your head up, just until your shoulder blades lift off the floor.

3.     Slowly lower back down.  Repeat as many times as you can.  Try to add a few more crunches each day.  Be sure to exhale as you curl up and inhale as you release back down.

TREADMILLS — Not for daydreamers

THESE can simulate everything from walking trails to running hills.

Non-motorized, manual treadmills operate by having the user walk on the rubberized surface, which powers the belt.  If the exerciser slows down, the belt slows down.  

On a motorized model, the belt continues at the same speed, forcing the exerciser to walk or run at that pace.  

In other words, you challenge a manual treadmill, but a motorized treadmill challenges you.

In the past, treadmill-related injuries have been reported to the US CPSC.  The injuries occurred because the user fell or someone caught his or her fingers in moving parts.  

In the CU test however, none of the treadmills tested posed a significant hazard.  But a moving treadmill belt can be hazardous to any exerciser who daydreams.  If you own a treadmill, to ensure a safe workout, straddle the belt before you start it moving, and get on when it's moving very slowly.  

Concentrate: If your eyes are constantly darting around the room, it's easy to become disoriented.  And if you have young children, make sure your treadmill has roller ends which are covered.

If you're planning to buy one, a welded frame and deck construction is by far the most durable, since bolts and rivets will eventually rattle loose.  Look for a panic button that will bring the treadmill to a rapid halt.  

Along with side or front rails, stop buttons can make you feel safer and more at ease.

Natural ways to burn

SO do you really need a home exercise machine?  Forget the claims made by scantily-clad hard-body exercise enthusiasts who promise thin thighs and bigger biceps to those who lay down their gold cards for the latest fitness fad, experts say.

"There is no one best kind of fitness machine," stresses exercise physiologist Richard Cotton, spokesman for ACE.You should also consider the risks posed by exercise machines too.  

Research shows that if you exercise, you'll reduce your chances of dying prematurely; cut the risk of developing heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis; and you'll be better able to control your weight and resist depression and anxiety.

But you don't need exercise machines to achieve these.  Walking or running outside, or riding your bike, will save you money and can provide the same health benefits.  Best of all, you get to enjoy some fresh air and outdoor scenery.

A total of 30 minutes of physical activity a day, on most days of the week, is good enough.  You can rack up those minutes through everyday activities like walking to the bus-stop, doing some gardening or cleaning floors.

Here's a quick rundown of the various activities you can do and how many calories you can burn in the process :

Activity      Calories per hour (for a 150-lb person)

Running, 8 mile per hour (mph)     920

Cycling, 13 mph    545

Jogging, 5mph    545

Stair-climbing    410

Walking, 4mph    330


Toxic black henna dyes

Henna, a 9,000 year-old South Asian and Middle Eastern tradition of painting the body, has found its way to the  mainstream. Henna tattoos have been spotted on everyone from singing divas to movie stars to spring breakers. Henna is also used to dye hair.

Though the popularity of the body art rises, information surrounding it does not. Few realise that a form of henna, called "black henna," can poison us.

Henna, a paste made from the Arabic bush for which it is named, is a temporary ink used to decorate the body that fades after about 2 weeks. It's also used regularly to colour hair.

Henna should be brown, brick, or cinnamon in color. This is the natural color of henna, which experts and dermatologists say is safe for the skin.

However, many people want their body art black, and very often it's that colour that is unsafe.

Black henna is usually made by mixing the toxin p-phenylenediamine (PPD), commonly used as black hair dye, with henna to change the henna to black.

The allure of black henna is that it satisfies a demand for temporary tattoos to look real. It also decreases the drying time from up to 2 hours to just minutes. But it's the risks that come with black henna that caused the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) to ban its use for body art.

The FDA has also posted an import alert on henna. The alert states that any temporary tattoos that include unsafe additives or do not list ingredients cannot enter the country.

Black henna can cause allergic reactions to the skin ranging from a poison-oak-like rash to blistering, oozing sores, intense itching and scarring to acute breathing problems, said Stefani R. Takahashi, a dermatologist in California who has seen first-hand the repercussions of black henna.

The reaction can happen up to 3 weeks after the henna tattoo was applied.

PPD can pass through the skin into the bloodstream and cause harm to internal organs such as the kidneys and liver. Even those administering black henna are at risk of health problems from inhaling PPD.