Lollipop's shining stick found to contain carcinogens

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Vietnam's Ministry of Health has banned the sale of a new lollipop with luminescent sticks being sold around schools in the north after the stick was found to contain a chemical that can cause cancer.

On Friday, the Food Safety and Hygiene Department under the Ministry of Health asked all cities and provinces to revoke all the candy without having to conduct any test. The origin of the candy is still unknown as the label which is in English doesn't name the producer.

Le Thi Hong Hao, deputy head of the National Institute of Food Safety, said the stick of the candy contains the pollutant Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and the solvent Phtalate that combine to produce light when the children break the stick and shake it a little bit, she was quoted by local newswire Vnexpress as saying Friday.

Some PAH compounds have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic.

Hao said PAH is highly toxic and in Vietnam, is only allowed to be used for industrial purposes, like making paint.

"We shouldn't use or buy this candy for children. We should be careful not to use foods that look strange or have strange colors, as well as food that don't have clear indications of origin and Vietnamese instructions on the label," she was quoted by VOVNews as saying Saturday.

"Any chemical, organic or inorganic, is harmful when put into the body," she added.

Health authorities are cooperating with education counterparts to manage vendors around primary schools and junior highs, where the lollipop has been sold to students at less than VND1,500 (less than 8 cents) apiece or VND26,000 for twenty sticks.

Phuong, a fourth grader at Di Trach Primary School in Hanoi, said everyone in her class likes the candy as they can "both eat it and play with it.

"We'd rush to buy the candy at any break time. There are many colors: yellow, pink and green, beautiful!"

Her mother, Thoa, told Vnexpress the candy "might be another poison from China."

Nhu Lan, a fifth grader at Cau Dien Primary School, said she used to eat the candy but her mother has forbidden her from eating it further as calling it "rubbish".

Nguyen Cong Khan, head of the Food Safety and Hygiene Department, said "this candy of dubious origin is in the group that can cause cancer."

Dr. Nguyen Hong Quyen from the Institute of Materials Science said the chance that children consumed the toxic chemical "is very low" because the producer must have made vacuumed the stick before pouring the chemical in, and then covering it carefully.

But it's risky if some curious children smash the stick to find out what the substance inside is, she said.

"In principle, any luminescence is not good for health."

Khan said luminescent toys are banned in many countries.

In related news, the Hong Kong-based International Food Packaging Association has found carcinogenic powder in the soft boxes given to take-away customers at restaurants. The boxes are widely used in Vietnam, especially at cheap restaurants.

Hao from the National Institute of Food Safety said they will check to identify the substance.

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