Public Trust Wiped Away; Jamaicans at Risk from Tainted Toilet Paper

The poop has been hitting the proverbial fan in Jamaica recently over the sale of substandard toilet paper that has allegedly caused a slew of rashes and vaginal infections.

Active Voice explained:

The truth is we don’t know much. The Bureau of Standards claims to have found four brands that may be ‘contaminated’ but refuses to name them. Instead they are laboriously naming dozens of other loo paper that have alledgedly passed their tests. It leaves Jamaicans in a quandary. Should people like my friend Heather who invested in a case of toilet paper dump the lot because its not on the BOS list of safe tissues? Is it even safe to take a dump?

Annie Paul, the blogger, went on to chronicle some of the most outstanding tweets about the issue, but she was surprised to learn that:

This tissue issue had reared its head as far back as February this year albeit in a slightly different context. As a Gleaner article dated Feb 3, 2013, Shoddy imported tissue raises stink, has it:

Scores of Jamaicans are purchasing substandard toilet tissues and putting themselves at risk of serious health problems.

Sources in the health and manufacturing sectors last week confirmed that a large quantity of substandard toilet tissues is being imported into the island, mainly from Asia.

Paul surmised:

Perhaps we should consider whether this whole folderol is just a tissue of lies concocted by local toilet paper manufacturers to protect themselves against ‘foreign’ (read Chinese) imports of the sanitary product.

In the meantime the Jamaican Bureau of Standards (BOS) is digging in its heels and refusing to divulge the names of the contaminated toilet tissue brands.

Twitter, meanwhile, under the hashtag #TissueIssue, was on a roll, with some users offering useful information, others posting photos and most commenting on the situation:

@deronearcher: #InJamaica everyone stop talk bout the IMF and talking about the #TissueIssue Lol

‏@kishnicks: The PNP is an absolutely genius organization. What better distraction to the state of affairs than make us focus on the #TissueIssue #BS

Cucumber Juice pulled no punches, saying:

I’ve known for some time that Jamaica was up shit’s creek but the past few days have been a revelation. What a day it is when you cannot be certain if the toilet paper you have in your home is safe…

So far, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica and the Jamaica Ministry of Health have refused to name three brands of toilet paper and one brand of paper towel that have “ high bacteria counts” (problem #1). Flat out refusal. Instead the Jamaica Bureau of Standards provided lists of paper products…wait no, I’m not sure if all paper products are now being tested (problem #2)…right so let me rephrase: the Bureau of Standards Jamaica has chosen to only provide lists of toilet paper and paper towels that have been tested and found to not have “high bacteria counts.” A simple “pass” is noted. So if your preferred brand the brand that you can now afford is not on the list does that mean it failed the test or it hasn’t been tested yet? (problem #3)
How do we know that the list isn’t being manipulated to push sales toward certain brands or why certain brands haven’t (yet) been tested? (problem #4)

The Bureau of Standards Jamaica claims that it cannot name the four dangerous brands because — brace yourselves — they’re afraid of lawsuits. And the fear of lawsuits comes because there was no acceptable bacterial level for toilet paper in the first place. The argument then is that because there was no standard, the four dangerous brands cannot now be named for not living up to a standard (problem #5). Regardless of the fact that there is a high bacterial count…so high that even in the absence of standards there is a clear problem. Regardless of the fact that a product that comes into contact with genitalia – one of the body’s most sensitive areas – when used as the product is expressly intended to be used has a high bacterial count and has already caused illness. Call me crazy but those brands of toilet paper are not fit for their express, particular purpose.

The blogger, Alice Clare, continued:

Instead of naming the four brands and giving clear, explicit, firm guidance about how the public should proceed, the Ministry of Health is doing a belated silent recall and seizure action. The lack of urgency and the silence when dealing with a public health emergency is dangerous; this is a time when clear information is needed, not half-assed updates peppered with fear and uncertainty. And that vacuum of information breeds panic among the public.

The argument that testing is preliminary or that there are no standards holds no water for me. People are already sick…that is how the GOJ found out that there was a problem. By now testing should perhaps be in its third round; now is the time to request foreign help if you cannot manage because there is a clear and present danger to the health of Jamaican residents and citizens.

She went on to make her case for a proper recall:

Even if there are no standards required by the government agency responsible for setting standards, that the product cannot be used safely and for its intended purpose seems sufficient to publicly announce its recall so that the Jamaican public can protect itself. If not a recall then a clear, explicit, detailed public advisory including the names of the brands instead of incomplete lists…? Because that’s the bottom line: the public needs to be aware so that it can protect itself. It’s not like this is a brand of paper plate or garden hose: IT IS TOILET PAPER. WE ALL USE IT.

To her, the government's refusal to offer adequate information about such a present health threat reflects deeper issues of transparency and good governance:

I forget that this is the Government of Jamaica and for whom transparency, accountability and safeguarding the public are not priorities if even considerations. Regardless of whatever P is in charge.

Alice Clare went on to pose a series of pressing questions:

With none of the dangerous brands being named, what should people do about rolls of toilet paper and paper towels that have already been bought?

How will the GOJ [Government of Jamaica] inform a vulnerable public that it should not be using at least four brands of toilet paper if you can’t — or won’t — name the brands?

How will the GOJ inform a vulnerable public that A, B, and C are symptoms of The Toilet Paper Infection and that those who show these symptoms should see a doctor immediately? Is there sufficient medication available on the island for treating The Toilet Paper Infection? If not, is that being addressed?

If the GOJ does not name the dangerous brands, how will it ensure that the compromised tissue is returned — by consumers, retailers, distributors, wholesalers, supermarkets, the corner shop, the street vendor — to a designated place and safely disposed of?

Are the infections known to be caused by the bacteria on these four brands chronic or acute? Is there a test for the infection? If the four brands are not named, how will people know that they may be at risk?

What’s the source of the contamination? How did the contamination happen? What’s being done to prevent further contamination?

Is there a pattern involving this kind of contamination, the four brands of toilet paper, the country or countries or origin? If re-exportation is done, who will notify the new destination countries that there’s a problem? The Jamaican public may not be the only public that needs to know this information.

Why doesn’t the Bureau of Standards Jamaica have any standards for the quality of toilet paper being supplied to the Jamaican public? What other standards has the Bureau of Standards Jamaica failed to establish and enforce?

The post concluded:

This is not the first incidence of a public health issue being dealt with in silence (Chinese restaurant illnesses, baby formula drama, 2012 dengue outbreak): why are the agencies meant to either establish standards or protect the public health lax in naming culprit products…or disseminating needed public health guidance? If the issue is Jamaica’s libel laws, when will they be amended to allow the GOJ to fulfill its public health role? The law cannot be a muzzle when the safety of a population is at risk.
And is it that, in effect, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica has indemnified companies that offer dangerous products on the market?

Where does the Jamaican public sign up to sue the Government of Jamaica for negligence?

Latest developments suggest this will likely never happen. As one Twitter user said just a couple of days ago:

‏@suebellaC: …And just like that the #TissueIssue came and went…

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