By Mark Prigg Science
Correspondent And Rebecca Lawrence, Evening Standard
Dozens of toothpastes
sold at supermarkets are at the centre of a cancer alert
products, including dishwashing liquid and handwash, are
also affected. Researchers have discovered that triclosan,
a chemical in the products, can react with water to
produce chloroform gas. If inhaled in large enough
quantities, chloroform can cause depression, liver
problems and, in some cases, cancer.
An Evening Standard
investigation found dozens of products on supermarket
shelves containing the chemical, from brand names
and Sensodyne. Marks & Spencer
confirmed today it was removing products containing
triclosan from all its stores and has been working with
Greenpeace to develop alternative products.
ASDA said it was
investigating the problem and would be urgently talking to
its suppliers. Giles Watson, a toxicology expert at
wildlife charity WWF, warned that the long-term effects of
exposure to chloroform were still unknown and advised
consumers to check the bottles before buying products.
"These products produce
low levels of chloroform, but that adds up over time. The
amount of gas formed is very low but I think the key thing
is that we just don't know what the effects are. However,
manufacturers do have to list triclosan on their
ingredients, so if consumers are worried the best advice
is to avoid products with the chemical."
A Tesco spokesman said:
"We do not use triclosan in any of our own-brand products,
apart from one anti-bacterial handwash, which is being
reformulated, and our toothpaste. We believe that
triclosan is a very effective ingredient in toothpaste as
it helps fight gum disease and improve overall oral care."
The Department of Trade and Industry said use of triclosan
was tightly controlled under EU laws brought in last year,
but that they were under constant review.
Researchers in the US found
that the chlorine added to water in Britain reacted with
triclosan to produce chloroform-gas. They found that it
was possible for the chloroform produced when soap
containing the chemical mixes with chlorinated water to be
absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Professor Peter
Vikesland, of Virginia Tech University, who carried out
the research, said: "This is the first work that we know
of that suggests that consumer products, such as
antimicrobial soap, can produce significant quantities of
chloroform." He has called for governments around the
world to regulate the chemical more closely.