A chemical linked to cancer cell growth and disrupted development in animals is uses in millions of households in the form of a top-selling Colgate-Palm Olive toothpaste.
Colgate uses triclosan as an antibacterial chemical to prevent gum disease.
The company said Total is safe, citing a rigorous approval process by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that led to its approval in 1997, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
However, a closer look at that application process, reveals that some of the scientific findings Colgate put forward to establish triclosan’s safety in toothpaste were not black and white.
Until this year, they were not available to the public.
Colgate is not accused of wrongdoing and nothing in the application process proves triclosan is harmful. It was the FDA’s decision to keep the documents off its website, the company said.
The FDA followed standard procedure by redacting information that had come from a third party, said spokeswoman Andrea Fischer.
Some studies were done in the labs of Ciba-Geigy, the first triclosan maker and a predecessor to its current primary maker, BASF SE, according to the documents.
Colgate removed triclosan from its Softsoap liquid handsoaps and Palmolive antibacterial dish liquid in 2011, citing changing consumer preferences and superior formulations.
It said it has no plans to reformulate Total, the only triclosan toothpaste approved for US sale.
Used for decades in handsoaps, triclosan is now part of almost 200 products including rugs and pet-food dispensers.
Companies including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble Co. have vowed to remove it from their lineups. In May, Avon Products Inc. announced plans to go triclosan-free.
Total, the No. 3 selling brand in the US, lost 2 percent of its market share last year, with US$189.8 million in sales for the year to Jan. 26, according to market research firm Mintel Group Ltd.
Colgate spent 10 years and U$38 million to develop Total, according to Mintel. Introduced in 1992, it was marketed in almost 100 countries before gaining US approval, the report said citing FDA documents.
In 2010, the European Union banned triclosan in materials that come into contact with food.
Three years later, the US Environmental Protection Agency, which reviewed the chemical in 2008, began another review 10 years earlier than planned.
It cited the “rapidly developing scientific database” on the chemical, which includes studies on thyroid effects, according to its website.
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