I’m a politician, I’ll take care of you

I WAS encouraged at the enormous amount of coverage that was given to the potentially carcinogenic colourant, Sudan 1, finding its way into the human food chain. Sudan 1 is normally only used in industrial situations, where I am sure it carries warnings about its toxicity. It has been widely used in food for human consumption for some 18 months now, we are told.

Supermarket shelves have been cleared, whole consignments of food have been destroyed. Politicians have been loud in their indignation and assurances that they are doing all they can to protect innocent consumers. I am reassured that our political leaders are taking such good care of us and protecting us from harmful ingredients in our daily foods. Can I ask when similar shelf-clearing will start on all the personal care products that have contained potential carcinogens for decades?

In February 1994, the New York Times published a letter by Dr. Samuel Epstein, then Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health. Dr. Epstein drew public attention to the many flaws in a study which claimed there were no links between hair dyes and cancer.

After giving relevant facts and figures, he ends: “There is substantial evidence on the carcinogenic hazards of petrochemical hair dyes. Their use represents a major class of avoidable cancer risks to some 50 million women in the US. Legislative and regulatory action is now decades overdue.”

That was February 1994…and still nothing has been done. Perhaps I could remind you here that Jackie Kennedy – she of the ever-shining black hair (which was dyed every two weeks to keep it that way) – died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

In 1997, Senator Edward Kennedy made a statement to Congress, opposing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reform bill which would exempt cosmetics from state regulation. It started: “The cosmetic industry has borrowed a page from the playbook of the tobacco industry by putting profits ahead of public health. Once again, a special interest lobby is using its background muscle in the Republican Congress to obtain an unconscionable advantage. Our message today is that cosmetics can be dangerous to your health. Yet, this greedy industry wants Congress to prevent the American people from learning the truth…A study by the respected, nonpartisan General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that more than 125 ingredients available for use in cosmetics are suspected of causing cancer. Other cosmetics may cause adverse effects on the nervous system, including convulsions. Still other ingredients are suspected of causing birth defects…The poisons in cosmetics can also cause long-term injuries and illnesses that do not develop for years after exposure…”

Has anything changed, either on that side of the Atlantic or this? No, of course not. Like the man said, there is far too much at stake by the manufacturers of cosmetics to actually tell us what damage these ingredients can do to us – or, heaven forbid, formulate something safer!

Have a look at the list of ingredients on some of your personal care products. Shampoo, for instance – first ingredient is water. Second one? Probably Sodium Laurel Sulphate or its cousin Sodium Laureth Sulphate. What is it? A foaming agent, normally used in industrial cleaners for garage floors and the like. Its containers carry the skull and crossbones symbol, and clear warnings about it being a skin irritant. Repeated independent studies have also shown it to be a potential carcinogen. Look at your body lotion or your baby’s wipes. Proplyne Glycol is probably near the top of the list of ingredients there. It’s also a key ingredient in brake fluid and has again been shown to be a potential carcinogen.

What about talc? Yes, talc as in powder that women have for generations scattered liberally around the delicate genital areas of themselves and their children. As Dr. Samuel Epstein said in November 1994: “A wide range of scientific studies over the last three decades have clearly linked regular talc use by women and ovarian cancer.”

I received a touching email last year from a reader after one of my many bangings of this particular drum – I quote: “In 1975, my mother was diagnosed with cancer of the womb. She had a successful operation in the Royal Masonic Hospital in London. After the operation the surgeon spoke to her and told her that they found a lot of traces of talc. He said that he operated on a lot of women with cancer and that talc was always found, he told her anyone she knew to stop using it. She, of course, passed on the information to me and I passed it on to all that I knew. How come, if this was known back in 1975, that it is still on the market now, and still used in abundance for babies?”

Finally, an update on Vioxx, the COX-2 drug that was withdrawn by its manufacturer after it was proved responsible for at least 55,000 deaths. How come the FDA allowed it back on the market? Apparently Vioxx’s manufacturer was going to tell some naughty secrets about other COX-2 drugs – can’t have that, can we? And – surprise, surprise, 10 of the 12 people on the FDA advisory panel have financial ties to one or more manufacturers of COX-2 drugs, such as Celebrex and Bextra. Imagine what that did to the voting. It also, perhaps, answers the question raised in the last paragraph. Politicians, taking care of us? Yeah, right!