Hong Kong to probe Colgate toothpaste over cancer-linked ingredient

Colgate documents reveal that popular Total product, which is widely sold in Hong Kong contains triclosan, a chemical linked to cancer

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 11:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 2:47pm

Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department is to look into a report that Colgate's popular Total toothpaste contains triclosan, a chemical linked to cancer.

Triclosan is not banned in Hong Kong. A Department of Health spokesman said 13 registered pharmaceutical products being sold in the city contained the chemical as an active ingredient.

The spokesman added that no reports of adverse reaction to the chemical had been received and toothpaste was not classified as a pharmaceutical product.

Bloomberg reported on Monday that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had released 35 pages of documents from Colgate that summarised toxicology studies on triclosan, which is used to stave off gum disease.

The documents were released earlier this year in response to a lawsuit over a Freedom of Information Act request.

A departmental spokesman said: "As regards a report saying that Colgate Total contains triclosan, Hong Kong Customs will look into the report, and seek professional advice from the Department of Health on health concerns."

Under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance, it is an offence to supply, manufacture or import into the city consumer goods unless they comply with "general safety requirements", the spokesman said.

The maximum penalty for the offence is a fine of HK$100,000 and imprisonment of one year on first conviction.

Some questions about triclosan's potential impact on health are, by nature, unanswerable.

This was because humans were exposed to dozens of chemicals that may interact in the body, making it almost impossible to link one substance to one disease, said Thomas Zoeller, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts in the US.

"We have created a system where we are testing these chemicals on the human population. I love the idea they are all safe," Zoeller said. "But when we have studies on animals that suggest otherwise, I think we're taking a huge risk."

A spokesman for Colgate's Hong Kong office said that Total had for over 20 years been the subject of rigorous and continuous scientific review by the FDA and regulators in the European Union, Australia, Canada and other countries, all of which affirmed the safety and efficacy of the toothpaste.

Another Colgate spokesman, Thomas DiPiazza, told Bloomberg that Total's effectiveness and safety were supported by more than 80 clinical studies involving 19,000 people.

P&G's oral-care products have been triclosan-free in the US and several other markets for a number of years, and GlaxoSmithKline reformulated all its products which previously contained the ingredient.