Denture Cream Zinc Poisoning Consequence of Lax Chemical Regulations

Lax regulation of chemicals in consumer products helped create the <"">denture cream zinc poisoning debacle, according to a recent Economic Scene column in The New York Times. According to the piece, the U.S. doesn’t take toxic risks seriously enough.

The columnist points to denture cream zinc poisoning as one example where lax rules on toxic ingredients have put consumers at risk. As we’ve reported extensively, excessive exposure to zinc in denture creams has been associated with neurological injuries in some users. The human body does need zinc – but only in small amounts. Studies show that consuming at least 50 milligrams of zinc a day for a few months could lead to copper deficiency, which can cause anemia, bone loss, nerve damage and other problems. Ingesting 80 or 100 milligrams or more for months or even years can lead to irreversible damage.

Compelling evidence exists that long-term exposure to the zinc in denture cream can lead to not only irreversible nerve damage, but to disability, as well. In August 2008, the peer reviewed journal Neurology reported on four patients suffering from neuropathy and other neurological symptoms typical of zinc poisoning and copper depletion. The article specifically linked excessive exposure to zinc in denture cream to “profound neurologic disease” in the patients reviewed.

Since that study was published, scores of people have sued the makers of zinc-containing Super PoliGrip and Fixodent denture creams over their neurological injuries. Last year denture cream lawsuits pending in federal courts were consolidated in a multidistrict litigation in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division (MDL No. 2051). The first trials in that litigation could start in early 2011.

As the Times points out, many diseases – including some cancers – have been on the upswing in recent years, and no one knows why. But there is evidence that exposure to chemicals could play a role.

It’s hard to know for sure though, because as the columnist writes: “Companies don’t have to release much of their internal safety data. And regulators face a terribly high burden of proof. They can often take action only after they have demonstrated that a substance is harmful — a task that corporate secrecy can make impossible.”

Take denture cream, for example. According to the piece, the link between zinc and copper deficiency was first noticed in the 1950’s. In the last decade, the association between copper deficiency and neurological problems was discovered. Then, in 2008, the Neurology study on denture creams was published. A follow-up study was published by the same researchers the following year that backed up their previous denture cream research.

Even after those studies, zinc-containing denture creams stayed on the market. The makers of Super PoliGrip and Fixodent insisted their products were safe if used moderately. But at the time, what directions were included on the on the products were pretty vague.

In February, GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Super PoliGrip denture adhesives, announced it would stop the manufacture, distribution and advertising of Super PoliGrip products that contain zinc. The company said that the denture creams would be reformulated, with zinc-free varieties expected to go on the market later this spring. In recent days, Procter & Gamble, the maker of Fixodent, has begun cautioning users about zinc in its product, but has not made any move to remove Fixodent from the market or reformulate it. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, this has come too late.

According to the Times column, the denture cream saga is an good example of how companies are less zealous about protecting consumer safety than they are about making money.

But according to the Economic Scene column, there is hope, because the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency appears to be taking the risk of toxins more seriously than her predecessors. Congress also plans to take up a bill this year that would update toxic regulations, and even the chemical industry appears less opposed to more regulations.

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