La toxicité des produits « non toxiques »

L’attribut « non toxique » que l’on retrouve sur les emballages de produits chimiques constitue une stratégie de vente bien connue des fabriquants. Tout bien considéré, le sens de cette expression est floue et souvent déroutante, faute de critères bien définis. Chose certaine, les produits ainsi étiquetés peuvent malgré tout être nocifs et toxiques.

En réalité, seul le consommateur est responsable de faire un choix éduqué parmi les quelque 300 000 produits chimiques disponibles en ce moment sur le marché. Il est souvent très difficile de choisir parmi ceux-ci puisque les ingrédients ne sont habituellement pas listés.

En guise d’exemple, « Eco-House Inc », qui opère de Fredericton, offre une solution à ce problème en développant et en manufacturant des produits « chimiques » naturels.

 

 

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NON-TOXIC ?
Better think again

Henrik J. Reinartz
Eco-House Inc.
January 1999

 

t.gif (259 bytes)he last time you decided to buy some extra high quality crayons for your kids, a varnish for your custom-made new furniture or an insecticide for your organic garden, were you not drawn to the products saying in big letters "Non-Toxic" on the label? Didn’t it give you comfort to know somebody else cares too ?

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(photo: Henrik Reinartz)

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Products made with: "Natural origin

ingredients"
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You better think again. Sure, manufacturers of chemical products have recognized that the attribute "non-toxic" has become a selling point and is perceived as a seal of quality. But who makes sure that this fact is not abused and who defines what non-toxic means in practical terms? Does it mean the product is edible in any quantity? Does it mean the product is safe if used as intended or does it just mean the product is not as hazardous as others in this category?

The reality is that it can mean any of these definitions and hundreds more. The use of the term "non-toxic" is not regulated in Canada and therefore its use in label advertising is always misleading, because it is left to the buyer to assume what it means.

Of course, there is the Canadian Domestic Substances List and the American Toxic Substances Control Act which define what the law considers to be safe at the present time. But neither of these acts is independent from industry input and they had to be changed in the past, i.e. chemicals considered safe at one time were recognized as unsafe later (asbestos, formaldehyde, penta-chlorophenol, DDT, etc).

So in fact the consumer is still fully responsible to make an educated choice out of 300,000 chemicals presently in use worldwide without being a chemist or a toxicologist. On top, most product labels even don’t list their ingredients.

logo.jpg (15285 bytes)
(photo: Henrik Reinartz)

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Logo of Eco-House Inc.
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Eco-House Inc., based in Fredericton, NB, is developing and manufacturing Natural Chemistry Products, which offer a way out of this dilemma. Eco-House Inc. uses less than 150 mostly-natural ingredients in its products, ranging from fine painting art supplies to wood finishes and organic pesticides. All ingredients are listed on the labels and since they are mostly of natural origin, there is a good chance that the consumer understands what he/she is buying. The typical ingredients are "chemicals" such as orange peel oil, beeswax, carnauba wax, pine resin, rosemary oil, linseed oil, cedarwood oil, castor oil etc.
The foremost objective in the product design is to develop products, which are;

1. as low-toxic to people as possible,

2. as harmless to the environment as possible in sourcing, manufacturing, use and disposal, and

3. viable under technical and economical aspects.

Often these criteria contradict each other, making it necessary to balance one objective against the other and still to achieve an above-average product.

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(photo: Henrik Reinartz)

The presently most-advanced Eco-House product segment caters to the art supplies market all across Canada and the USA, providing low-toxicity solvents & thinners, painting mediums, varnishes and raw materials for fine art painters from Newfoundland to Southern California.

The next two market segments to be covered are organic wood finishes and pesticides. While art supplies and finishing products are not regulated in Canada, pesticides are heavily regulated through the Pesticide Act and Health Canada.

Eco-House Inc is targeting to enter first the US-pesticide market in 1999, since US-regulatory requirements appear somewhat easier to meet than the Canadian. While the US-EPA requires a proof of product safety, leaving the proof of efficacy up to the marketplace, Canadian authorities require a proof of Safety and Efficacy. The regulations for the proof of efficacy require a 2-year test series on every crop/insect combination, making this process very costly.

A manufacturer of natural chemistry pesticides, who spends the necessary money to proof efficacy of his natural ingredients, will not be able to patent his product because it is made from natural compounds. This means he will not be able to recover his investment and his studies will even allow competitors to produce similar products without those initial costs. To some degree, this Canadian regulation inhibits the development of natural-sourced, organic agrochemicals.

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(photo: Henrik Reinartz)

Finally we have to question whether it is more important for Canadians to protect farmers and gardeners from the occasional ineffective product or the whole nation from hard chemicals in the food chain.