Personal care and household goods maker Procter and Gamble is under fire for selling diapers that allegedly contain potentially toxic substances.
Although large discount retailers have pulled the company's Pampers Baby Dry diapers off their shelves following the controversy, the South Korean government has not been able to issue an official recall or pursue punitive measures because there are no clear regulations here regarding the detected toxins.
On Jan. 24, French consumer magazine 60 Millions de Consommateurs (60 Million Consumers) reported that a study had revealed the presence of traces of "potentially toxic" substances in many of the disposable diapers sold in France.
The list of the potentially dangerous products included Pampers Baby Dry, which is sold in Korea.
The French magazine had claimed that it had detected 0.000533 picogram per gram toxicity equivalency factor of dioxin, approximately 1/188th the level permitted for baby products in Europe.
Late last week, Lotte Mart, Homeplus and E-mart announced they would pull Pampers Baby Dry from their product lineup.
On Friday, the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards, which is under the purview of the Industry Ministry, said it would begin a safety investigation into the P&G product.
The hit to P&G comes just a month after the company's fabric refresher Febreze was cleared from a list of potentially dangerous products released by the Environment Ministry.
Last year, the product had been suspected of including toxic levels of an antimicrobial agent that could damage the lungs.
P&G has denied the French magazine's allegations that these toxins were included in their products.
"We don't know how those tests were conducted," a spokeswoman for the company said.
"What we can say for certain is that those compounds were never used intentionally in our products. Even the amounts that the French tests claim were detected (in the products) are at an extremely minute and harmless level."
P&G is also declining to refund consumers for previous purchases of Pampers Baby Dry, maintaining its stance there is nothing wrong with the products.
However, consumers and distributors remain wary because the government does not have any clear standards on how much of these compounds could be considered safe.
Currently in Korea, diapers are categorized under the Children's Products Safety Act as requiring "safety management."
Diapers must undergo testing for 19 different chemicals including formaldehyde, but the screening list does not include dioxin or pesticide compounds that the magazine claimed were found in the P&G diapers including hexachlorobenzene and pentachloronitrobenzene.
The absence of clear government regulations in consumer product safety is making consumers, especially mothers, anxious about all of the other products that may have gone unchecked.
In online communities, some mothers have even taken the issue into their own hands.
"I'm going to personally study the compounds in various baby products that I use," said one post on a popular online community that focuses on baby care.
The government has said that after concluding its investigation of the Pampers Baby Dry products, it may expand the investigation to include all diapers sold in Korea.