Canadian Underwriter

Health Canada ‘slow to respond’ to reports of prohibited substances in personal hygiene products: Auditor General report

June 1, 2016   by Canadian Underwriter

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The federal health department “cannot assure consumers” that cosmetic products comply with the nation’s Food and Drugs Act, and vendors of such products are not required to disclose chemical components, a recent auditor-general’s report suggested.

set of  decorative cosmetic“Health Canada should inform consumers that it does not regularly test cosmetic products for prohibited and restricted substances, microbial contamination, and heavy metals,” environment and sustainable development commissioner Julie Gelfand (an assistant federal auditor general) stated in a report released Tuesday.

The report – Chemicals in Consumer Products and Cosmetics – was one of three 2016 Spring Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

The other two reports were Federal Support for Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure and Mitigating the Impacts of Severe Weather.

In the report on cosmetics and consumer products, the environment and sustainable development commissioner noted that the federal Cosmetic Regulations “do not require industry to disclose the chemical components of cosmetic ingredients characterized as ‘parfume,’ ‘aroma,’ ‘fragrance,’ or ‘flavour’ to Health Canada or to consumers on product labels.”

Those regulations make it an offence to “sell any cosmetic that has in or on it any substance that may cause injury to the health of the user when the cosmetic is used.”

The report defines cosmetic as “any substance or mixture of substances manufactured, sold, and used as a personal product to clean, improve, or alter the complexion, skin, hair, scent, or teeth.”

In the audit, Office of the Auditor General staff “examined the extent to which Health Canada’s Consumer Product Safety Program was working to protect the public by addressing or preventing dangers to human health and safety posed by chemicals of concern in household consumer products and cosmetics,” according to the report. “Specifically, we examined the Program’s detection and rapid response activities.”

The report recommends that Health Canada test products “to determine the extent to which cosmetics include prohibited and/or unsafe concentrations of substances” and to “consider options to encourage manufacturers” to release – on a confidential basis – complete lists and concentrations of substances.

Health Canada agreed with that recommendation, Gelfand noted, adding the department “will consider options to encourage manufacturers to disclose, on a confidential basis, the complete list and concentrations of substances that comprise ingredients listed under the umbrella terms referenced in the recommendation.”

In the report, Gelfand noted there is “no obligation for industry to report health- and safety-related incidents for cosmetic products.”

Health Canada may receive “voluntary reports” about products, but the department was “slow to respond to notifications of cosmetics containing substances prohibited by the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist,” which includes lead, mercury and cadmium, among others.

“Health Canada took an average of nine months from receiving a notification to confirming that cosmetics containing prohibited substances had been removed from, or prevented from entering, the Canadian market,” the environment and sustainable development commissioner reported. “However, in the cases we reviewed since the introduction of online notifications in 2013, we noted a marked improvement in response time.”

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