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                                



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.

Toxic BPA leaches from “safe” plastics

idris-bpa01If you frequently eat from a plastic food container or drink from a plastic bottle, chances are you are ingesting Bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic chemical compound with proven links with a wide range of health disorders, from infertility and breast and prostate cancers, to thyroid malfunction, attention deficit syndrome and recurrent miscarriage.

BPA is a key ingredient in plastic food storage containers, plastic baby bottles and in metal food can linings. It’s unnatural and poisonous and has no place in food. Yet each time you or your baby eat or drink from a plastic container or bottle, chances are you’re taking in this toxin too, because it seeps from a wide range of plastic products in use today — including “microwave-safe” plastics. This was discovered in a recent lab analysis of plastic-packed food items by the Journal Sentinel, an American newspaper.

BPA is commonly thought to be found only in hard, clear plastic (ie polycarbonate) and in the lining of metal food cans, but the Journal Sentinel’s test in August 2008 detected BPA even in frozen food trays, microwaveable soup containers and plastic baby food packaging.

In the test, BPA was also found to be leaching from containers with the recycling numbers 1 (PETE or PET— ie Polyethylene Terephthalate), 2 (HDPE — ie High Density Polyethylene) and 5 (PP — ie Polypropylene).

The amounts detected were at levels that scientists have found cause neurological and developmental damage in laboratory animals. The problems include genital defects, behavioural changes and abnormal development of mammary glands. The changes to the mammary glands were identical to those observed in women at higher risk for breast cancer.

The newspaper’s test results raise new questions about the chemical — and the safety of an entire inventory of plastic products labeled as “microwave safe”. The findings show that there is no such thing as “microwave safe” plastics.

According to the Journal Sentinel report (15 November 2008), BPA was found to be leaching from all plastic containers of 10 food products that it tested, all of which were heated in a microwave or conventional oven.

The 10 food items involved were: Munchkin bowls, Gerber Graduates Pasta Pick-ups, Rubbermaid Premier food storage container, Gerber 2nd Foods Hawaiian Delight dessert, Campbell’s Just Heat & Enjoy tomato soup, Enfamil liquid baby formula, Hormel chili, Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese and Stouffer’s lasagna. Playtex VentAire baby bottles also were tested, but the company has since reformulated the product to eliminate Bisphenol A.

Tiny Amounts Can Do Big Damage
Some of the food companies implicated claim the doses detected in the tests — some samples had BPA as low as 40-60 parts per trillion (ppt) — are insignificant to human health.

But the Journal Sentinel identified several peer-reviewed studies that found harm to animals at levels similar to those detected in its own tests — in some cases, as low as 25 ppt.

Scientists with an expertise in BPA say the findings are cause for concern, especially considering how vulnerable a baby’s development is and how even tiny amounts of BPA can trigger cell damage.

BPA is a known endocrine disruptor. Unlike other toxins that become more potent as their doses increase, endocrine disruptors behave like hormones — BPA mimics estrogen (the female sex hormone) — with effects that are ultra-potent: Even tiny amounts can trigger cell change.

Harm during this “critical window” of development is irreparable and can be devastating, they say. (Different periods of human development are susceptible to chemical exposure. These “critical windows” are characterised by hormone regulation of cell proliferation in developing organs, cell migration, and development of specialised function).

Nira Ben-Jonathan, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, whose studies found that BPA interferes with chemotherapy, said the chemical’s effects might not be immediately obvious, but can be devastating over time.

“They used to say DDT (the first synthetic pesticide of the modern age, now long banned in much of the world) was safe, too,” Ben-Jonathan said.

Leads to Breast Cancer
The Journal Sentinel’s tests were done to determine the prevalence of BPA in a typical modern diet for babies and small children.

Based on the test results, the newspaper then estimated the amount of BPA a child might consume and compared it with low-dose amounts of BPA used by researchers in animal studies.

In what is believed to be the first analysis of its kind by a newspaper, the Journal Sentinel found that an average 1 month-old girl is exposed to the same amount of BPA that caused mammary gland changes in mice.

Those same changes in humans can lead to breast cancer.

“This is stuff that shouldn’t be in our babies’ and infants’ bodies,” said Patricia Hunt, a professor at Washington State University who pioneered studies linking BPA to cancer.

“We know a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is directly linked to her lifetime exposure to estrogen — both natural and synthetic estrogen. It’s outrageous that manufacturers of some baby bottles are exposing little girls to BPA … and possibly increasing that little girl’s risk of breast cancer later in life, especially when safe alternatives are available,” says Janet Nudelman, Director of the Program and Policy for the Breast Cancer Fund in the US.

Linked to Heart Disease & Diabetes
According to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (16 September 2008), BPA is also linked with heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, two of the world’s biggest killers.

In a study of nearly 1,500 people, researchers in the United Kingdom found that subjects who were diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes had higher concentrations of BPA in their urine.

In the study — the first study of BPA’s effects on humans — tests carried out on more than 1,400 Americans, as part of a nationwide study, showed that more than 90% had recognisable levels of BPA in their bodies.

The scientists believe that BPA can cause metabolic syndrome, in which patients suffer from high cholesterol, high blood pressure and struggle to control their blood sugar levels.

They found that the chemical can more than double the likelihood of developing diabetes and heart disease, even when other factors, including obesity, were accounted for.

BPA could also be linked to early onset of puberty and obesity, according to animal studies.

Actual Dose in Foods Could Be Higher
Experts say we could be exposed to more BPA in food than what the latest findings show. Because all products the Journal Sentinel had tested were new, BPA experts believe that the newspaper’s tests underestimated the amounts of BPA that normally would be leaching from reusable products.

Studies show that as products age and are repeatedly heated and washed, they are more likely to leach higher amounts of BPA.

Also, the tests did not examine the food in those containers for BPA levels. The food in those containers was replaced with a mixture of water and alcohol, a standard laboratory practice that makes measuring easier and more accurate. But that also eliminates other variables that are in the food, such as fats and acids that are more likely to encourage BPA to leach.

“You can’t see this happening. You can’t taste it, you can’t smell it, but you are getting dosed at a higher and higher amount,” says Frederick vom Saal, a university of Missouri researcher who oversaw the newspaper’s testing.

According to vom Saal, BPA’s effects also can be magnified by other chemicals in the plastic. This has been proved in one experiment after another, said vom Saal, who has become a vocal critic of the chemical industry.

Toxic fragrances in household products

The 6 sampled products together emitted nearly 100 different Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). 10 of these VOCs turned out to be restricted or regulated by US laws because they are toxic: chemicals such as ethanol, 1,4-dioxane, ethyl acetate, alpha­pinene, 2-butanone, acetaldehyde, and chloromethane.

There are over 3,000 chemicals used in the manufacture of fragrances in common household products, and they might be affecting more of us than we think. That’s the conclusion of a researcher from the University of Washington. (Steinemann A. “Fragranced consumer products and undisclosed ingredients”, Environmental Impact Assessment Review Online, 10 July 2008).
She looked at 3 common air fresheners (a solid deodoriser disk, a liquid spray and a plug-in timed spray), and 3 laundry products that used chemical fragrances (a fabric softener, a detergent and a dryer sheet. Using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, she tested the products for concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — chemicals released by the products into the surrounding air.

Plenty of research has shown that about 20% of the population is allergic or sensitive to chemical fragrances — they may get a skin rash, hay fever, asthma, migraine, nausea, dizziness, or fatigue and difficulty concentrating. But there hasn’t been much research looking at long-term effects of these chemicals, such as cancer, birth defects or deficiencies of the immune system.

Some of the VOCs used in these products are known to be harmful to animals in lab experiments (causing cancer and birth defects), and are strongly suspected of being harmful to humans. Evidence from epidemiological studies, particularly in the US and Europe, suggests long­term exposure to these chemicals may cause more serious illnesses in humans too, aside from an immediate sensitivity reaction.

Until we know more about perfumes and fragances, even if you don’t suffer from a reaction to them, it might be a good idea to reduce your exposure to them. Choose scent-free products, such as unscented toilet paper. Fresh flowers and herbs are good ways to naturally scent your home. Avoid air fresheners by getting rid of the source of bad smells and ventilating the home instead. Source: CHOICE Health Reader, December 2008

PVC plastic products outgas poisons

pvc-outgasIt's one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created.  It’s dangerous to human health and the environment at every stage of its lifecycle: from production, to use, to disposal, yet it’s the most widely used material on earth. Beware of PVC, the Poison Plastic.
Did you know: Most plastics are made from petroleum (oil or natural gas) and plastics can contain a whole host of chemical additives that are never labelled that can be toxic to animals and humans.  PVC is one such toxin-laden plastic.
The additives are not chemically bonded to the PVC polymer but are merely mixed into the plastic during its formulation. Over time, they leach out of vinyl products, entering the air, water or other liquids with which the product comes in contact.
Studies show that some toxins in plastics are building up in humans and that some of us may be experiencing serious health effects as a result.  
pvc-coverBesides that, toxic manufacturing byproducts like dioxin (the most potent carcinogen known to science), hydrochloric acid and vinyl chloride are unavoidably created in the production of PVC and can cause severe health problems like cancer, endometriosis, neurological damage, immune system damage, respiratory problems, liver and kidney failure, and birth defects.
The chemical substances produced by PVC during its entire lifecycle are already present in global, local, and workplace environments at unacceptably high levels. Yet there is little public awareness of its adverse health and environmental effects.
PVC is an unnecessary toxic plastic. Although found in a wide variety of products — from food packaging to children’s toys, plumbing and building materials to medical devices — in every case alternatives to it exist.
Here’s what you should know about PVC, a largely unrealised public health menace.

PVC: The Poison Plastic

EVER wondered why your new car; plastic shower cap, curtain or tote bag; or your baby’s new toy has an offensive smell for days, even months?  There’s more to that “new” smell than you think.  That whiff of bad air you get is from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) — one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created on earth — which is present in these and many other consumer products we use daily.

PVC products stink because they contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are poisonous carbon-containing chemicals that are volatile enough to evaporate at room temperature. This process, called outgassing, is also a problem with building products such as plywood, particleboard, carpet and pads, paints, stains and glues.
Outgassing odours are most noticeable when products are new, but diminish over time until they finally disappear. A shower curtain can outgas for a month or longer, for example, depending on conditions. High temperature and humidity will speed up the release of VOCs.
VOCs can be toxic. Most commonly they irritate eyes, noses and throats, causing coughing, headaches, dizziness and nausea. The symptoms go away when outgassing ceases.
But the danger doesn’t stop there.  Did you know: From the time it is manufactured right up to its disposal, PVC keeps on releasing dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer, making it the worst plastic for our health and the environment.

What is PVC?

Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC or vinyl, is one of the most common synthetic materials. It’s widely used in construction materials (eg: pipes and fittings, windows, flooring, fencing, decking, roofing, wall coverings, wire and cable products), transport and packaging materials, medical supplies, and consumer products (eg: credit cards and toys).

PVC use has grown rapidly since World War II, when it gained popularity as a rubber substitute.  PVC is presently the second most widely used plastic in the world. And it’s one of today’s most dangerous toxic offenders. It cannot be recycled, and it is considered by many experts to be the most dangerous, carcinogenic plastic ever created by man.

Why It’s Dangerous

PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle — at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash.? Its manufacture, product life and disposal all pose great environmental and health hazards.

The dangers of PVC are from the persistent pollutants it releases and the toxic additives used to produce PVC products.
What it contains: PVC is the only common plastic that contains chlorine. Although the plastics industry likes to point out that chlorine comes from ordinary salt, chlorine is actually listed by the US federal government as an “extremely hazardous substance”. Vinyl chloride, the building block of PVC, can cause cancer in humans, according to the US government’s National Toxicology Program.
PVC products also often contain dangerous toxic additives such as mercury, dioxins, lead and phthalates (used as softeners) which can leach out and pose dangers to consumers.
Lead, for example, can damage the brain and nervous system and cause behaviour, learning and developmental disabilities.
Phthalates are additives widely used in the production of PVC to make it soft and flexible. Phthalates have been associated with an increased risk of cancer and kidney and liver damage.
Exposure to phthalates has also been linked with premature births, early puberty in girls, impaired sperm quality and sperm damage in men, genital defects, and reduced testosterone production in boys.
Many of the chemicals are thought to interfere with the reproductive system and development.
When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer (dioxin is the most potent carcinogen known to science) and harm the immune and reproductive systems.
Dioxins are extremely long-lived in the environment, and, because they are fat-soluble, they concentrate in the tissues of humans and other species.
When used, PVC products pose health risks.  Many of the toxic additives in PVC can be released from PVC products when they are used or handled by consumers. PVC products also release toxic fumes if they catch fire.

Widely Used

The vast majority of PVC manufactured is used in the production of building materials, however it’s also used in many other consumer products such as children’s toys, baby’s shampoo bottles, office supplies and packaging and thousands of other products, including medical products.

A Persistent Threat

PVC harms all who come in contact with it — from workers making the products, communities located near PVC manufacturing plants, and consumers purchasing them, and to those living near landfills and incinerators where the products are discarded.

PVC uses and releases highly hazardous chemicals including vinyl chloride, dioxins, mercury, phthalates, and other chemicals that have been linked to deterioration of the central nervous system, liver damage, reproductive harm, and certain cancers.
Source: Utusan Konsumer, Jan-February 2010
  • Health threats from PVC additives
  • How they harm
  • A public health menace surrounding us
  • How to avoid PVC