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German Study Says Condoms Contain Cancer-causing Chemical

DW staff (sp)
May 29, 2004

A German scientific research institute has warned that most condoms on the market contain a cancer-causing chemical and has urged that their manufacture be subjected to stringent quality control.

Sobering news for rubber contraceptive users.Image: Condomi

The Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Institute in Stuttgart said on Friday it had found the carcinogen N-Nitrosamine in 29 of 32 types of condoms it tested in simulated conditions.

The condoms, which were kept in a solution with artificial sweat, exuded huge amounts of cancer-causing N-Nitrosamine from its rubber coating. Researchers measured amounts of N-Nitrosamine, that were way above the prescribed limits for other rubber products such as baby pacifiers.

"N-Nitrosamine is one of the most carcinogenic substances," the study's authors said. "There is a pressing need for manufacturers to tackle this problem."

The study said that the carcinogen is thought to be present in a substance used to improve condom elasticity. When the rubber material comes in contact with human bodily fluids, it can release traces of N-Nitrosamine.

No immediate health risk

But since there are no prescribed limits of N-Nitrosamine for condoms, the study hasn't caused panic among manufacturers or mass-recalling of the products from counters.

Local government officials said condom users should not stop using rubber contraceptives based on the results of the study because N-Nitrosamine does not present an immediate health risk.

The Baden-Würtemmberg Social Ministry said it didn't think "it posed a risk." Authorities are also withholding the name of the affected manufacturers for fear of litigation.

Manufacturers should use alternative substances

But Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment said that daily condom use exposed users to N-Nitrosamine levels up to three times higher than levels naturally present in food.

Werner Altkofer, head of the Stuttgart-based Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Institute said that though the production of rubber usually uses chemicals that can exude N-Nitrosamine, condom manufacturers could bypass it by using more expensive alternative substances available on the market that didn't form the carcinogen.

"We believe that it's up to the manufacturers to use other production processes so that no N-Nitrosamine is formed in condoms," Altkofer said.

He added that the latter was technically possible going by the fact that products of some manufacturers didn't show traces of the carcinogen during the testing.

Beate Uhse taking no chances

Germany's biggest erotica compnay Beate Uhse however, has decided to play it safe.

Shortly after the results of the study were introduced on Friday, the group banned chocolate-flavored condoms from its range. That was because the study had show that condoms laced with a chocolate flavoring had overwhelming high levels of N-Nitrosamine.

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