in the home
hemicals are part of our Some chemicals found in stances are independently
everyday lives. We come everyday products, such as tested and their risks to human
into contact with them cans and plastic bottles, are health assessed by a relevant
when we do the dishes, known to be endocrine dis- EU body before they can be
clean the windows or read a rupters. This means they have used. In the UK, this may be
newspaper. Often we’re aware adverse effects on hormones in the Department of Trade and
and cautious of toxic chemicals the body. Industry (DTI) or DEFRA
in products such as drain Endocrine-disrupting chem- (The Department of Food and
cleaners and fly sprays. But icals have been linked to testic- Rural Agriculture), for
we’re not always aware of the ular and breast cancers, a example. Existing substances,
potentially harmful chemicals decrease in sperm count, and which make up over 99 per
Rachel Clemons looks at in some of the seemingly more impaired development of the cent of the total volume of all
the harmful chemicals innocent products, like shower immune and nervous systems. chemicals, are safety tested
that might be lurking in gels and shaving foams, that we Studies investigating the links only by their manufacturers,
your cupboards actually put on our bodies. with some endocrine-disrupt- and there are no independent
In this report, we’ve identi- ing chemicals and these effects assessments of these tests.
fied some of these chemicals are currently under way. Safety You may assume that,
found in household items, and limits for exposure have been because existing chemicals
looked to see whether popular set for many worrying chemi- aren’t independently assessed,
brands contain them. cals, and some tests show that they must be safe. But evidence
reveals that this is not
always the case. Where
We may be contaminated there is sufficient
concern about the
with more than 300 chemicals safety of a chemical, a
risk assessment may be
carried out by EU scien-
THE CONCERNS levels in consumer products tists. However, this can take
Short-term exposure to some fall within these limits. years, and by the time it does
chemicals can lead to allergies However, more research is prove that a chemical is unsafe,
PHOTOGRAPHY BILL JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPHY ILLUSTRATION SHONAGH RAE
and asthma. But more worry- needed to look at the long-term it may be too late for the people
ing is that some chemicals are effects and implications of a or the environment affected.
persistent and they can bioac- cocktail of these chemicals on For example, DDT was used as
JARGON BUSTER cumulate for years (see ‘Jargon people and the environment. a pesticide for years before it
Persistent chemicals Ones buster’, left). We may be conta- was found to cause reproduc-
that enter the environment or minated with more than 300 HOW WELL ARE WE PROTECTED? tive disorders in birds.
our bodies and don’t break man-made chemicals. Existing EU chemicals regula-
down easily Babies can be exposed to tion doesn’t protect consumers TIME FOR CHANGE
Bioaccumulate When chemicals in the womb and as well as you might expect. In February 2001, the
persistent chemicals build through breast milk. Although There are different regulations European Commission White
up in body fat it’s agreed that breastfeeding for ‘existing’ substances (all Paper – Strategy for a Future
Endocrine disrupters has definite benefits over chemicals declared to be on the Chemicals Policy – was pub-
Chemicals that have adverse bottle-feeding, any potential market prior to September lished. Encouragingly, it aims
effects on hormones in the exposure to toxic chemicals is 1981) and for ‘new’ substances to create a single EU regulatory
body, particularly oestrogen worrying, as children are par- (those placed on the market system for all chemicals known
ticularly vulnerable. since that date). Only new sub- as REACH (Registration,
8 August 2002
investigation household chemicals
Chemicals in everyday household
products may have serious effects
on our health.We investigate what’s
being done to protect us from them
Evaluation and Authorisation data evaluated by EU experts. CHEMICALS IN YOUR HOME whether their well-known
of Chemicals). This proposed However, chemicals produced Campaigners, such as Friends brands contain these chemi-
system is a step in the right in quantities of less than one of the Earth and Greenpeace cals. The information we’ve
direction but it is not flawless. tonne (roughly 70,000 sub- have identified various chemi- obtained is a snapshot of the
Chemicals that are produced in stances) will not be registered cals used in household prod- products on the market, and
volumes of more than one and will be assessed for safety ucts as particularly risky. This is not an extensive product list.
tonne (roughly 30,000 chemi- only by the chemicals industry. because they are endocrine Other brands not on the list
cals) will be registered by rele- This legislation may not disrupting, persistent and/or may or may not contain these
vant European authorities. Of come into play until the end of bioaccumulative. Here, we’ve chemicals. The information
these, only around 5,000 sub- 2005 and it could take many looked at five of these chemi- was provided by the manufac-
stances (those that exceed a more years before testing and cals. We asked the main manu- turers. We didn’t test the
production volume of 100 evaluation of existing chemi- facturers that produce some of chemical composition of any of
tonnes) will have their safety cals is complete. the products they’re used in these products.
ARTIFICIAL MUSKS PHTHALATES
Artificial musks are used in fragrances in Phthalates are used as plastic softeners in many
perfumes, cosmetics and household goods, PVC products, such as children’s toys and vinyl
such as air fresheners.There are two main flooring.They’re also in some cosmetics, such as
types – nitro and polycyclic.Both are hair sprays and nail polishes.
persistent and bioaccumulative.They’ve Phthalates bioaccumulate and have been
been found in the environment and in detected in the body and in breast milk.They have
breast milk.Rats exposed to some nitro also been found at low levels in foods such as gravy granules and infant
musks have developed cancer. formula milk.Tests on animals show that phthalates can cause birth
defects, and damage to the liver and the reproductive system at low
Current status Musk xylene and musk exposure levels.Research has also proven that phthalates can migrate
ketone (both nitro musks) are subject to from plastic toys into saliva, when children put toys in their mouths, say.
regulation under the EU Cosmetics Directive because of their tendency to
bioaccumulate.The amounts that can be used in cosmetics are restricted. Current status In May 2002, the European Commission renewed the
Many manufacturers have withdrawn nitro musks from their products. temporary ban on six phthalates used in childcare products made of soft
Polycyclic musks are currently under review.Ingredients in cosmetics PVC that are designed to be put in the mouths of children under three,
have to be labelled, but any of 2,600 fragrance chemicals can be listed such as teethers.All manufacturers that we contacted said that they
under the catch-all term ‘parfum’. Artificial musks in products not covered complied with the current ban.However, there is no regulation for the
by the Cosmetics Directive, such as air fresheners, are even harder to use of phthalates in other products, including toys for children over
identify as their ingredients don’t always have to be labelled. three, which children may put in their mouths.
AIR FRESHENERS SHOWER GELS CHILDREN’S PLASTIC TOYS NAIL VARNISHES
d Free from all artificial musks d Free from nitro musks but d Free from phthalates d Free from phthalates Boots No 7,
Haze, Dettox and Airwick contain other artificial musks Tonka, Action Man, Star Wars Lancaster, Liz Collinge, Margaret Astor,
d Free from nitro musks but Dove, Physiosport action figures, Lego1, Duplo Rimmel, Ruby and Millie
contain polycyclic musks Glade d Free from nitro musks but d Insufficient information d Phthalates being phased out Boots 17,
d Free from nitro musks but insufficient information given on given about phthalates in toys Boots Glitter Babes, Boots Natural
insufficient information given on other artificial musks Olay, Radox not covered by the current ban Collection, Helena Rubenstein, L’Oréal
other artificial musks Ambi-pur d Insufficient information given Barbie, Fisher-Price, Hot Paris, Lancôme, Maybelline
d Insufficient information given Imperial Leather, Aquasource Wheels, Sindy d Phthalates in Avon, Olay, Max Factor
Neutradol 1 All Lego products are free from phthalates except for a Lego Scala doll’s head
August 2002 9
s investigation household chemicals investigation household chemicals investigation household chemicals in
BISPHENOL A ORGANOTINS
Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to make epoxy Organotins, also known as alkyltins, are used
resins found in the linings of food and drink as heat stabilisers in about 8 per cent of PVC
cans, and in polycarbonate plastics used to products produced in Europe.PVC products
make items such as baby feeding bottles, containing organotins include carpet lining,
water bottles and food storage containers. vinyl flooring and PVC gloves.They are also
Studies on animals have shown low levels of used as fungicides, for example, in replica
BPA to have endocrine-disrupting effects, football shirts and the insoles of trainers.
including early puberty in female rats, Tributyltin (TBT), which is mainly found in protective paints for ships, is a
reduced fertility and effects on the development of reproductive organs. serious offender.From ships it has spread throughout marine
Experts at the European Chemicals Bureau have classified BPA as a environments and, due to its effects on hormones, has destroyed mollusc
reproductive toxicant for its effects on fertility. populations.In 1999 scientists discovered that TBT could produce similar
It’s estimated that 90 per cent of all cans are produced using resins effects in humans.
derived from BPA and may contain residues.BPA can migrate from can In July 2000, the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) found TBT in
linings into food at low levels.One study conducted by the Food babies’disposable nappies on sale in the UK at levels that gave cause for
Standards Agency (FSA) last year found BPA in 38 of 62 samples of canned concern.That year, Greenpeace Germany reported that a range of
food.However, it says that that the ‘trace amounts’of BPA found were well children’s plastic beach toys had also tested positive for trace levels of TBT.
below permitted levels.Food manufacturers tell us that linings in food Large quantities of TBT were also found in a range of common products,
cans help ensure the safety and quality of canned foods by preventing including PVC gloves, in a study by the Danish environmental protection
the contents from reacting with the metal container. agency in 2001.
Most feeding bottles sold in the UK are made from polycarbonate Although Greenpeace and the Danish agency felt that it was unlikely
plastic derived from BPA.Manufacturers argue that polycarbonate bottles that the use of these products would have any immediate effects on
are a safer option to glass feeding bottles, which can break.BPA in baby health, the possibility of long-term hazards to health and the
bottles, though, has concerned some groups.A study commissioned by environment following exposure to low levels of TBT from these types of
the DTI in 2000 showed that BPA is released from polycarbonate babies’ sources can’t be ruled out.
bottles after bottle brushing, dishwashing or sterilisation.This suggests
BPA could leach from older, scratched babies’bottles.A consumer group Current status The use of organotins in disposable nappies or any PVC
in the United States also found that BPA could leach from the plastic of products isn’t regulated.Current advice from the Department of Health is
baby bottles when heated with milk inside them. that there’s no evidence that the compound poses any risk to humans.
But concern is sufficient that the UK has proposed that all evidence on
Current status The independent Committee on Toxicity reviewed the organotin use in textiles and consumer goods should be collated at
results of the FSA’s study last year and said that there was a substantial European level to help decide whether further restrictions on TBT in
margin of safety.It advised that the levels of BPA detected are ‘unlikely to consumer products is necessary.
be of concern to health’and said consumers shouldn’t avoid canned food
because of the findings.This year a new safety evaluation by EU scientists
concluded that BPA is safe to use in products that come into contact with
Tests commissioned by WEN in 2000 found TBT in
food, such as packaging.But it reduced the recommended safety levels
the body of disposable nappies.It’s thought that
for daily intake.The committee acknowledged that more research is HELP ONLINE
the chemical may have leached from the
needed to ascertain the effects of BPA on humans. Have you got a
adhesive where it was used to preserve the
comment or question
stickiness.Manufacturers have since assured
about chemicals in
BABY BOTTLES FOOD CANS WEN that they’ve removed TBT from their
household products? If
d Most baby feeding bottles d BPA is used to develop products.When we contacted manufacturers of so, post your questions
in the UK are made from protective linings in food and Huggies and Pampers nappies, their trade on our website at
polycarbonate plastics.These drink cans.These include ones association responded on their behalf.It told us www.which.net/
include Boots own-brand, used by Heinz, John West and that its members don’t use any organotins in the which/askus.html
Mothercare own-brand, Avent, Princes manufacture of disposable nappies, and that Post your questions
Tommee Tippee and Maws organotins aren’t detectable in the finished by 9 August.We’ll reply
feeding bottles product marketed in the UK. on the site on
10 August 2002
nvestigation household chemicals investigation household chemicals investigation household chemicals
ALKYLPHENOLS AVOIDING CHEMICALS OF CONCERN
Alkylphenols/alkylphenol It would be unrealistic to stop Which?, February 2001, p8).
ethoxylates are used in detergents buying products we use every d Contact the retailer.Some,
but are also found in paints, glues and day, such as tinned food and such as Body Shop and the Co-op,
lubricating oils as well as in some shaving foam. However, if you’re are actively sourcing alternative
cosmetic products such as shampoos worried about particular ingredients to products
and shaving foams. chemicals, there are some containing chemicals targeted by
Alkylphenol ethoxylates become things you can do to try and campaigning groups.
more endocrine disrupting in the avoid them. d If you’re worried about BPA in
environment when they break down to alkylphenols.The breakdown d Read the label.Most chemicals babies’bottles, replace old
products, including nonyl phenols and octyl phenols, have been linked to don’t have to be listed but in polycarbonate bottles with new
human fertility problems.Earlier this year, the European Chemicals some cases, for example, dibutyl ones on a regular basis. Using
Bureau agreed that nonyl phenols should be classified as toxic in terms of phthalates in some Boots own- glass bottles is also an option,
their effects on human fertility and development. brand nail varnishes, the although these aren’t widely
manufacturer may have available, and could break.
Current status In October 2001, UK government advisers called for a volunteered the information. d If you’re concerned about
voluntary industry phase-out of nonyl phenols and their ethoxylates in d Contact the manufacturer. organotins in disposable nappies,
areas including the cosmetics sector, due to the unacceptable risks that Although they aren’t always try cloth nappies.For more
these chemicals pose to the environment.An EU risk assessment further obliged to give out specific information, check out our report
highlighted the need for more research in order to define the risks to product information, it is still on washable nappies coming up
human health, and also for stricter controls over the use of these worth a try.The quality of the in the November issue.
chemicals.Proposals for marketing and use restrictions are expected response you receive may vary d See the product information
soon from the European Commission.The Danish government has been between companies but can be on the Greenpeace and Friends
helping companies to phase out the use of nonyl phenol ethoxylates in informative (see ‘Chemicals: the of the Earth websites (see
products and to develop alternatives since 1995. hidden ingredients’, Health ‘Further information’, below).
SHAVING FOAMS AND GELS SHAMPOOS OUR VERDICT
d Free from alkylphenols Colgate d Free from alkylphenols
Palmolive, Proshave Ultragels Pantene, Head & Shoulders, There are still too many uncertainties about the potentially harmful
and Ultrafoams Wash & Go,Vidal Sassoon Salon, effects of some chemicals on human health and the environment.
d Some foams and gels contain Clairol’s Herbal Essences and Currently, chemicals can be used until they are proven to be unsafe.We’d
an alkylphenol ethoxylate Gillette Defense Systems, Organics, like authorities and industry to take a precautionary approach, and prove
d No comment from Timotei, Salon Selectives, J&J chemicals are safe before they’re used.If there is a reason to suspect that
manufacturer Wilkinson Sword Baby & Kids, Neutrogena, a chemical may be risky, it should be withdrawn from use until further
Elvive, Fructis, Nutralia research is completed.
The new chemicals legislation is unlikely to come into play until the
end of 2005.We’d like to see manufacturers and retailers taking
responsible action in advance of this date to phase out chemicals that
? www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/safer_chemicals/ For information on
Friends of the Earth’s Safer Chemicals Campaign
www.greenpeace.org.uk/products/toxics/ Visit Greenpeace’s
Chemical Kitchen for an interactive guide to toxic chemicals and
are known to be harmful.We encourage any research to source and
develop safer alternatives.We also want more ongoing research looking
at the long-term effects of harmful chemicals and on the effects of a
cocktail of chemicals on humans and the environment.
information on which kitchen products contain them The government’s white paper on chemicals and the proposed REACH
www.wwf.org.uk/whocares For WWF’s advice on ways to reduce your system are a step in the right direction.However, we’d like to see all
exposure to toxic chemicals chemicals assessed for safety.We’d also like to see improved and
www.ortepa.org/ For information on organotin compounds compulsory labelling of chemical ingredients in products so that
http://endocrine.ei.jrc.it/gaed.html This site has information on consumers can make a more informed choice when buying them.
endocrine disrupters ?
August 2002 11