A leading supermarket chain has pulled several brands of baby wipes from shelves after revelations they contain a restricted preservative that may pose a health risk.
Progressive Enterprises - which includes the Countdown, Woolworths and Foodtown supermarkets - said yesterday that it was withdrawing baby wipes containing the chemical iodopropynyl butylcarbamate (IPBC) and offering a refund.
The Herald purchased, from a Countdown store, two brands of baby wipes containing the preservative - Woolworths Homebrand and Select Scented Baby Wipes - and one for toddlers, Precious Flushable Wipes.
Author Wendyl Nissen has raised concerns about IPBC - and other chemicals in baby cosmetic and bathing products - in her latest book, Mother's Little Helper.
Nissen, the Weekend Herald what's-in-our-food columnist, said IPBC was acutely toxic by inhalation and should not be used in products that could be inhaled.
"The chances of a baby inhaling this ingredient on a baby wipe are slim if the wipes are just used for the bottom area, but how many of us have grabbed a wipe to clean up a runny nose?"
The Health Ministry said last night that baby wipes containing IPBC "may pose a public health risk because of their potential sensitising and allergenic effects".
"In 2001, Danish researchers found that the use of IPBC in cosmetic products 'can lead to contact sensitisation and allergic contact dermatitis'. Results of patch-test studies ... in 2003 also showed that IPBC is considered to be a proven contact allergen."
The ministry praised the voluntary withdrawal of the wipes and said health protection officers would check to see if affected products were being sold elsewhere. The Foodstuffs Auckland supermarket group, which includes New World and Pak'nSave, said it had begun an investigation into the "potential breach" by Precious and another brand. It would withdraw products found in breach and offer a refund.
Both supermarket groups sell wipes that do not contain IPBC.
The chemical was originally used as a paint and wood preservative, then more recently in cosmetics.
Cosmetics standards administered by the Environmental Protection Authority set maximum levels for its use in deodorants and some cosmetics, including young children's bath products, shower gels and shampoos.
But it is banned from other cosmetic products for children under 3, and from any-age oral hygiene and lip products, body lotions and creams.
Nissen applauded the withdrawal of the wipes, but lamented the fact that the industry and regulators had not detected the breach of standards. "As consumers we have no one to trust except ourselves and our own ability to read labels and interpret them."
* Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate.
* A preservative.
* Originally used in paint and wood.
* Now also in some cosmetics but banned from baby wipes.
* Linked to allergic skin conditions.