Beware! - Hidden poisons in the home

8 October 2002 - Beware! The food we eat, the juices we drink, the air fresheners we naively spray in the air, our fabric softeners, shampoos, bubble baths, hairsprays and suntan lotions are all slowly poisoning us! Cancer, birth defects, epileptic seizures, Alzheimer's disease, liver poisoning and cataracts are just a few of the health effects linked to toxic chemicals which are added to our foodstuffs, cosmetics and household cleaners.

Ten civil society organisations [1] have joined forces and have written to the Minister of Health asking her to protect us from hidden chemicals present in our everyday household products and foodstuffs. These organisations are asking the Minister to review the current applicable legislation and regulations which are outdated and not in keeping with current knowledge on the health effects of the many toxic chemicals permitted for use in South Africa. For example, some of the artificial flavourants and colourants permitted for use in children's sweets and cooldrinks are banned in other countries for health reasons.

These organisations are also calling on the Minister to legislate the compulsory labelling of all ingredients in cosmetics and cleaning products. (It is already a requirement that ingredients in foodstuffs to be labelled.) Further, all products containing harmful (or potentially harmful) chemicals should bear warning labels that the use of consumption of the said product may cause cancers, birth defects or other health problems. For example, in the USA products containing saccharin bear warning labels stating that: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals." Despite, this saccharin is available in a wide variety of foodstuffs in South Africa, including children’s juices, ice-cream cones, chips, sweets, and canned drinks.

Of particular concern to us are the developing foetus and young children, who are the most vulnerable to chemical poisoning. Thus it is a crime that foods developed for children contain excessive quantities of artificial colours, flavours and sweeteners. It is possible that the apparently high prevalence of hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorders in children today could in some instances be attributable to consumption of toxic chemicals such as artificial flavourants, colourants, preservatives and sweeteners.

Some of the common household products containing dangerous chemicals in many South African homes include:

Whilst the concentration of a certain chemical in one product may be relatively low, what is evident from the short list above is that we are exposed to many toxic chemicals from many sources which results in a cumulative (combined) effect on a health. Thus, ultimately the only solution, and our central request, is the elimination of all of these chemicals from our homes.

[1] The ten organisations are:

groundWork, Environmental Monitoring Group, Earthlife Africa (Johannesburg), South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Sustainable Energy Africa, The Green Party of South Africa (Cape Town branch), the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (KZN), Ekogaia Foundation and the Noordhoek Environmental Group.