The Consumer Protection, Competition and Fraud Repression directorate-general (CCF) has lifted all restrictions on the imports and distribution of more than 10 types of infant and baby powder products after reports from an Australian testing laboratory determined that the products did not contain asbestos.
Back on August 23, CCF alerted the public that it was temporarily suspending the imports and distribution of a dozen baby powder products nationwide after an initial local laboratory test indicated the possible presence of asbestos.
In a September 5 statement, CCF said that after a thorough review and analysis of the product samples with the close cooperation of Australian development partners, local authorised companies can now resume the imports and distribution.
CCF said the analysis method used for asbestos that CCF’s laboratory implemented was provided to them with training by a team of Australian experts and it involved the use of a Polarised Light Microscopy (PLM) system.
It added that in principle, though asbestos and asbestos look-a-like minerals are both sometimes found in talcum powder, they can only be identified with certainty using more advanced approaches.
Therefore, in order to ensure accurate results, CCF sought assistance from OCCSAFE Australia to test the suspect samples and have them analysed at the COHLABS Laboratory of Australia to verify its accuracy as it is a third-party testing facility which is internationally recognised.
"The COHLABS laboratory performed the analysis using Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), a state-of-the-art technique, and found that the 12 samples of infant and baby powder products did not contain asbestos," it said.
CCF director-general Phan Oun told The Post on September 5 that guardians and parents can now use these 12 baby powder products as normal because the products have been confirmed free of asbestos and there are no dangers to doing so.
He stressed that the moves taken so far were only precautionary measures because asbestos ground fine enough to be in talcum powder is a very dangerous substance and of global concern.
"Infants or babies who are accustomed to using these products can continue using them normally because all the information we have received from the Australian lab indicates that it is all good. We get more accurate results from their labs because they use TEM, which is more advanced equipment than we have," he explained.
Oun also said CCF will continue monitoring the situation in collaboration with all stakeholders to ensure that all products circulating in the market are in compliance with national and international standards.
According to CCF, asbestos is a type of naturally occurring mineral that is used in numerous products such as insulation or building materials, but is extremely dangerous when it is loose in the environment as smaller particles that can be breathed in as this has been linked to mesothelioma and other rare lung cancers.
Asbestos is therefore banned from cosmetic products and would be considered extremely dangerous were it present as a finely ground powder applied to human skin rather than an object with a coating or wrapped in a sheathe.
A source from DKSH said the results of the laboratory test clearly show that their baby powder products are harmless, and confirmed that the company has been authorised to resume the imports and distribution of the products.
Pum Penh, a mother who regularly uses baby powder on her children, told The Post on September 5 that she had stopped all use of it following the announcement from the authorities.
She said that the decision to stop was based on the fact that the products she uses on her children were among the products that were declared to contain this hazardous substance.
"When it was declared safe again, I was no longer worried. We used it with confidence because in the past we were worried that our children would get this or that disease.
"However, regarding the use of this baby powder, I do not dare to give advice to other parents and tell them that they should continue using it or not using it. I think that whether they use it or not depends on their own perspective," she said.
Hen Phearak, a dermatologist with a medical practice in Cambodia, said that as an expert he would rather err on the side of caution when discussing something as potentially deadly as asbestos because Cambodia is usually awash with counterfeit products or knock-off products not made to the same standards as in the developed world.
With this in mind, he urges all parents to use any commercial baby care products with extreme caution, especially what he calls the "inevitable" use of baby powder.
"Doctors do not like to use baby powder. But the powder is used to dry children with wet skin that is prone to inflammation and allergic reactions or just regular chafing from diapers or underwear.
"Therefore, since we can accomplish the same goals without the powder by using a dry cloth instead, why bother? But if people cannot avoid using it they must be careful to avoid breathing it into their respiratory tract and never apply it to the cheeks, forehead or face. Use a small amount on frequently wet areas," Phearak advised.