x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Public at risk from badly labelled cleaning products

Government's poison agency says that cleaning products are not adequately labelled and calls for stronger regulations over safety information.

ABU DHABI // Hundreds of household cleaning products on store shelves lack essential safety information, prompting a call for stronger regulations from the government's poison agency. The Poison Drug and Information Centre (PDIC) identified a large number of shortfalls during a survey completed last month of products for sale in Abu Dhabi.

The vast majority of cleaning products are imported and would not meet the strict standards that exist in the United States and Europe, the head of the centre said yesterday. More than 40 per cent of the corrosive products surveyed, and 76 per cent of the total, were not in child-resistant containers, according to the survey. "Exposure to these household cleaning products can be very dangerous," said Dr Yasser Sharif, the head of the PDIC. "It can be compounded by the fact that some products are not packed in proper protective packages or the content is being transferred by individuals from the original container to another container."

The products were taken from large supermarkets and smaller groceries across Abu Dhabi. The selection included bleaching agents, detergents, cleaning wipes, moth balls, pesticides and other items such as drain and toilet cleaners. The product labels were checked for clarity and complete information in English and Arabic. The results showed that because so many of the products are imported, the translations are generally poor and crucial information is missing.

One of the products did not include any information in English or Arabic and its purpose was not clear. Another powder-based product, which was of particular concern, had a picture of a child on its front label and no lid covering the holes in the top of the container. The findings have prompted the PDIC, which was set up by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD), to seek to introduce legislation governing the market.

Dr Sharif said he would work with the municipality and other government agencies to try to remove the potentially dangerous products from shelves, and create strict legislation. "This exists in other countries and it is something we will be speaking to other authorities about. I think it is needed here," he added. "When laws were introduced in the United States in the 1970s, the number of poison cases went down. We are about 30 years behind but we are working on it."

Brochures and pamphlets have been printed to alert the public to the potential dangers of certain products. A library and database will be set up to help medical professionals identify exact chemicals that might be used in an accidental or intentional poisoning. Seventeen per cent of poisoning cases reported to the PDIC each year involve household cleaning products. The latest figures show that the centre's help line received more than 930 phone calls from medical professionals and members of the public in 2008.

"They are found in almost every room in every house," Dr Sharif said. "They are used on a daily basis, posing a large danger, especially to children. We have cases of children swallowing bleaches and because the labels are not good enough, there is no basic first aid information." The team also identified a number of potentially dangerous discrepancies between labels in English and Arabic. Arabic translations were only included on 73 per cent of the product labels.

Strict EU legislation governing detergents, for example, stipulates the full contact details of the manufacturer or distributor must be included, and bans images of fruits on labels to avoid confusion about the intent of the product. Cautionary information was only included on 50 per cents of the labels in English. According to the survey conclusion report, the issue needs more attention from legislators and registering agencies "as it "highlights a very important safety concern".

"It is also prudent for UAE legislators and authorities to adapt more rigorous standards for the household products that are marketed in the UAE, especially corrosive household products [which] should not be sold without child resistant packages. There should also be a mandate for these products to have complete and informative Arabic label side-by-side to the foreign language label." Dr Sharif said another problem here was the mixing of products such as bleach and floor cleaner. "This can produce very toxic gasses. It is important that people never do this. It is also common for people to transfer products into other, unmarked containers. This could be very dangerous. An adult or child could drink it or play with it."

The PDIC team recommend enforcing "the presence of child-resistant containers", specifically for highly toxic products.

munderwood@thenational.ae * Additional reporting by May al Hamli