27 Sep 2016

EPA asked for $50,000 to assess handwash chemical

6:43 pm on 27 September 2016

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has asked the Green Party to pay $50,000 before it will continue to assess an antibacterial chemical that is banned in the United States.

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Photo: 123rf

Earlier this month the US Food and Drug Administration prohibited triclosan and 18 other chemicals found in common household products like handwash, toothpaste and soaps.

The EPA agreed there was new data that suggested the risks of systemic exposure to triclosan were higher than previously thought and could make bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

But, last week, the agency told Green MP Catherine Delahunty the chemical was not a priority and therefore Ms Delahunty would have to pay $50,000 to progress its assessment of triclosan.

Ms Delahunty was horrified by the response.

"This is a chemical that is found in so many household products, that's the frightening thing about it. If it's being banned by the Americans, we need to look at it seriously now and not wait because so many people are unaware that this chemical has serious risks," she told Nine to Noon.

If the EPA could not afford to make triclosan a priority, the government should step in, Ms Delahunty said.

"The government needs to pay, because what's the price of human health?

"We're causing huge cost and misery by not addressing this," Ms Delahunty said.

Other substances 'higher risk'

In a statement, the EPA said the fee was negotiable based on estimated costs.

"At present EPA's focus is reviewing a number of substances containing organophosphates and carbamates (OPCs), used in veterinary medicines or pesticides.

"Based on the most recent scientific data and evidence available, we consider these substances a higher risk than triclosan and therefore will not be initiating a reassessment of triclosan at this time.

The EPA said it would, however, continue to gather information on the chemical.

Environment toxicologist Louis Tremblay said triclosan should only be used for certain procedures in a medical or veterinarian clinic and not everyday household use.

"There is no evidence, and there is no differences between using a simple bar of soap, and a liquid soap containing triclosan.

Triclosan has to be in contact at a certain concentration in order to be effective, he said.

When banning the chemical earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Administration ruled manufacturers had not been able to show the products were safe for long-term daily use.

Removing triclosan 'not hugely difficult'

New Zealand company Health Basics decided to ban triclosan from all of its products back in 2014, when it said it first became concerned about possible health risks.

Managing director Mitch Cuevas said it refused to risk harming its customers.

"There are ways to reformulate to get the same effectiveness out of your products but without using triclosan. Getting palm oil out of your products is a lot harder; with triclosan there's quite a few alternatives.

"It does cost a little more from a formulation perspective, so you have to bear a little bit of that cost, but it's not hugely difficult," he said,

Customers were often unaware what ingredients were in the products they bought at the supermarket or pharmacy, Mr Cuevas said.

"Some consumers are very well educated, self-educated, but generally the consumer trusts the products they are buying in the grocery store are 100 percent safe.

"And sometimes the ingredients in those products, there are still some questions and doubts about," he said.

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