A Grain of Salt (ESA)


eyglo02_dlI’m no fan of the breast augmentation craze which continues to spread across western countries like wildfire. In my view plastic surgery should be limited to medical necessities but not used by private clinics to cash in on female (and male) insecurities and a glossy market image of the human body. Hail the beauty of variety, I say.

However, that view of mine is irrelevant to the suffering caused to hundreds of women in Iceland and elsewhere because of a defective product they bought: PIP breast implants containing industrial silicone instead of the medical variant, which in some cases have ruptured and caused illness not only to the women but also their children.

I’m not prepared to crucify the plastic surgeon who imported the product and conducted all operations where the PIP implants were used. He was not aware of the health hazard these implants posed until 2010, when they were taken off the European market, at which point he ceased using them.

However, both the plastic surgeon and the Directorate of Health, to which he turned with his concerns, should have notified the Ministry of Health and most importantly, the women involved. Instead they hushed the matter up and now, after the media pick up on it, point at each other.

The ultimate responsibility lies with the producers of the PIP implants who after receiving certification for the use of medical grade silicone switched to the industrial variant—and they should be prosecuted. But that doesn’t change the fact that Icelandic health surveillance authorities, on which we rely to look after our wellbeing, failed.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has also been slammed in recent weeks. In early January it was revealed that fertilizers containing too high a level of the heavy metal cadmium—which is carried through the food chain and has been linked to cancer—were spread onto pastures by unsuspecting farmers.

And speaking of heavy metals: a hair sample from the son of one of the women with PIP implants which had started leaking at the time of breastfeeding proved to contain heavy metals, the full impact of which is currently unknown.

MAST knew about the fertilizers many months before farmers and other customers, including the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service, were informed about the cadmium level of the product they had bought and used. The reason for keeping it under wraps for so long: the product was already in distribution.

Most recently Icelanders were shocked to learn that food products, including dairy and meat products from the country’s largest manufacturers, which most likely all of us have consumed for years, contained industrial salt instead of food grade salt.

The producer and importer of the salt have made considerable efforts in trying to convince consumers that the salt is harmless and that the content is practically the same as in food grade salt, although not as strict demands are made on its production and storage.

But what does that mean, exactly? Is it possible that dirt had gotten into the salt bags? Is there no reason to feel uneasy about having consumed salt that is intended for other purposes than human consumption, such as the production of chemicals?

At least it isn’t road salt as some media outlets have claimed. However, some of the companies listed as having bought the industrial salt stated after the list was published that they had in fact used it to scatter over their icy driveways.

Regardless, the biggest fault made remains the same as in the other cases. MAST knew about the industrial salt months ago but permitted the distributer to finish its stocks. The Reykjavík Health Protection Authority disagreed but still didn’t make it public until the story broke.

But also, how credible are accounts from people who claim that the sale and use of the industrial salt was a mistake over such a long period when the bags are very clearly labeled as such?

Did no one pause for a second to wonder whether a bag with a symbol of a factory and the word “industrial” in bold letters might have been misplaced in a small bakery?

Is there just a teeny tiny possibility that people turned a blind eye because industrial salt is cheaper than food grade salt and they could save a lot of money in using it?

Sloppiness or deceit, I beg that people learn from these mistakes, take more responsibility for their actions and together contribute towards patching up Iceland’s crumbling image as being pure, clean and healthy—let’s not forget the big waste burning scandal.

As for all of us: let’s be conscious about what we buy and consume and take everything we hear with a grain of salt.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.