Banned toxic chemicals in Australian everyday products

Australia's leading consumer advocacy organisation CHOICE says an investigation has revealed that many chemicals freely available in Australia are no longer registered in Europe because of safety concerns.

CHOICE says they found that many chemicals no longer registered in the European Union (EU) or soon to be removed - either because they were deemed to pose a risk or insufficient information was provided to permit their use - are widely used in household insecticides in Australia.

The consumer group says even if the scientific evidence is not yet comprehensive, enough information is available to question the assumption that there are "safe" exposure levels to toxic chemicals.

CHOICE has come up with a list of highly toxic chemicals about to be deregistered or already banned in the European Union which remain widely available in Australia.

These noxious chemicals can be found in many products which are used every day in households across Australia - in household surface sprays, cockroach baits, termite and ant treatments, mosquito deterrents, flea shampoos, pet accessories and head-lice treatments for children.

CHOICE says many such products contain eight chemicals which are no longer registered in Europe.

The analysis of pesticide use in everyday products found some contained neurotoxin, chlorpyrifos, which is used as a household insect killer, and pyriproxyfen which have been banned in the U.S. for a number of years because of suspected links to childhood leukaemia and effects on the reproductive and immune systems.

Another pesticide, permethrin, is still commonly found in commercial head-lice shampoos, lotions and sprays - the chemical is to be phased out in Europe from October - but permethrin has only recently been added to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority's list of chemicals to be reviewed and even then has been given low priority.

CHOICE says that while synthetic pyrethroids have long been hailed a safer option to organophosphate pesticides, some research has shown they can adversely affect the health of future generations and the Australian regulator's permissive, wait-and-see approach to pesticide regulation is out of step with global best practice.

CHOICE says chemical residues can linger in the air and soil, and on floors, carpets and indoor surfaces, where they can be breathed in or absorbed through the skin and some can have immediate and acute poisoning effects, while others can accumulate and remain in the body for years, adding to the body's chemical load every time they are used.

CHOICE says household products containing chemicals as active ingredients which are banned in the EU include:-

  • Chlorpyrifos Organophosphate in cockroach baits, ant killer
  • Malathion/maldison Organophosphate in Insect killer
  • Allethrin Synthetic pyrethroid in mosquito zappers and coils
  • Bioallethrin Synthetic pyrethroid in insect and surface sprays
  • Bioresmethrin Synthetic pyrethroid in insect surface sprays
  • Permethrin Synthetic pyrethroid in Fly/mosquito surface sprays, flea killers, pet shampoos and flea collars (up for review and no longer on the market)
  • Fenoxycarb Carbamate in flea and cockroach bombs
  • Pyriproxyfen Pyridine in cat flea collars

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) however suggests that Choice's data is flawed and that some uses of chlorpyrifos and pyriproxyfen were still permitted by the EU and say treatments to kill head lice were registered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and not the APVMA.

The APVMA says permethrin was found to "have a low overall toxicity and a low incidence of adverse events" by the TGA in 2003 - however the APVMA has been criticised for taking too long to complete reviews which is a concern because while the review is going on the risks associated with ongoing use of a chemical remained and no efforts were made to inform the public of the chemical's status.

CHOICE believes rather than managing hazardous chemicals merely by restricting where and how they're applied, Australian regulators should broaden their focus and investigate a chemical's endocrine disruption potential when assessing its toxicity.

CHOICE has called on the Australian Government to apply the precautionary principle to all chemicals and place the burden of proof on manufacturers and importers that a chemical is safe, rather than simply giving them the benefit of the doubt.

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