Toilet Paper Governance

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 to wipe your ass or vagina.

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)

Some of the components of public health.  Note the "communication" and "disease prevention" bits. (Image:

Some of the components of public health. Note the “communication” and “disease prevention” bits. (Image:

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.  I cannot use them to safely wipe my ass or my vagina.  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  (problem #6).  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.  After all “the four samples/brands identified with high bacteria counts, are not in the market as they have been under detention for the past nine (9) weeks.”  But something is in the market.  Caution is fine and recommended but by now surely the results should be confirmed and well on their way to reconfirmation.  People are already sick.  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.  And the public needs to know that its government is protecting it, instead of pussyfooting around and providing incomplete information.  It’s not like this is a brand of paper plate or garden hose: IT IS TOILET PAPER.  WE ALL USE IT.  A clear majority of citizens and residents are in danger; people are already sick.

But 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.  Because you see this Toilet Paper Issue is illustrative of the very serious governance problem in Jamaica.

Nevertheless I have some questions based on the six problems noted above:

Well, it is an option (Image:

Well, it is an option (Image:

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? Because as of 10:10 PM EST on April 16, 2013 the latest advisory on the Bureau of Standards Jamaican website begins with “To date…” indicating that tests are ongoing and that not all brands have been tested.  In fact, how many brands must be tested? Are folks just supposed to drip dry, shake dry, use a rag, rub up on the grass, or jump in the shower grab your bucket of water because NWC has struck again after using the toilet?

How will the GOJ 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? Actually, will the GOJ do this? 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? You know so that some enterprising person doesn’t resell dangerous tissue after things die down…Jamaica being Nine Day Talk Country and the economy having gone to shit and all.  The public needs to be aware so that it can protect itself.  It must be made aware.

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

What’s the source of the contamination? Where is this kind of bacteria usually found, in what conditions? How did the contamination happen? What’s being done to prevent further contamination?

Has this type of contamination been seen before?  If so, are the kinds of infections being seen in Jamaica the same kind of infections caused by this kind of contamination? In other words: 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.

How do we know that these dangerous brands weren’t already re-exported to Jamaica because of some other problem?

Are all paper products being tested?  Why or why not?

Image: @enn_tee & @Fuerza20 (on Twitter)

Image: @enn_tee & @Fuerza20 (on Twitter)

Can the infections caused by the toilet paper present in other forms? It was vaginal infections that first alerted gynaecologists to a problem but what happens if someone uses a few squares of tissue to wipe his nose? To mop her brow?  That is: (1) can the infections now known to be caused by the toilet paper cause rashes, sores, or other problems on other areas of the body, especially the skin? If so, can those infections be spread from human-to-human? (2) do the infections known to be caused by the toilet paper present differently in different groups (i.e. children vs. adult females vs. pubescent males) or among the same or similar groups (pre-pubescent girls vs. women)?

Why doesn’t the Bureau of Standards Jamaica have any standards for the quality of toilet paper being supplied to the Jamaican public? Is routine testing done on toilet paper and other imports? Why or why not? If not, when will it begin?

What other standards has the Bureau of Standards Jamaica failed to establish and enforce?

How does one find out what standards are established and being enforced?

Why doesn’t the Bureau of Standards Jamaica or the Ministry of Health have clear recall authority for products that are not fit for their particular purpose, even in the absence of standards?

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 businesses 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?

6 Responses to “Toilet Paper Governance”
  1. petchary says:

    Yes, the lawsuit part just baffled me. One noted lawyer said on radio this evening that the “legality” excuse is rubbish anyway. But I didn’t realize that the Bureau actually HAS no standards for these things? And are they testing baby diapers? If so, are there any “bad” diaper brands that we will never know the names of? On the BSJ website there are also a few kitchen roll brands that they have “passed.” I wonder if there are any that have “failed” that we should know about, too…

  2. Bethany says:

    Woyoy! What a prekke! There does seem to be gross dereliction of duty. Public health seems to be a misnomet on both counts. There are templates to follow. It is not rocket science. Good luck in your quest for sane and safe public policy.

  3. stannyha says:

    This is a well written piece Alice. It’s like listening to your favourite song – you know the one you wish you wrote if you were a songwriter. You hit the nail on the head with all the points raised. This whole tissue issue is but a small piece of all that is wrong with our island home. It appears as if the Jamaica Bureau of Standards (JBS) has no teeth. Nor legs for that matter. While the whole thing unfolded on Twitter and in the media yesterday (Apr. 16, 2013) it began to dawn on me that the issue could be more complex than how it appeared.

    The more popularly viewed approach is that substandard tissue is on the market from nameless manufacturers who were being protected because they were big shots or foreign tissue that is distributed by local big shots. As the day progressed and the ridiculousness of the JBS’ reasons for not revealing the names of those that failed micro biological testing came to the fore, a few questions came to mind. What if there is nothing wrong with any of the tissue brands at all from the point of its departure from the manufacturer? It is not inconceivable that JBS bungled the testing and that would partially explain their reluctance to reveal the names of the bad tissue. What was the sample size of the tissue tested? Where were all the unnamed tissues being accused of unfit for human use – being stored before they were made available to the public? Were the ones tested being stored in conditions not recommended by manufacturers and therefore attracted bacterial/ fungal exposure? Initially, a gynaecologist became suspicious based on the complaints/ symptoms coming to his/ her office. Was an investigation launched to ascertain the source of these tissue rolls?

    I’m in no way taking up for the tissue manufacturers. No way. There is obviously something amiss. People are already sick. There is clear incompetence on the part of the Health Ministry and the JBS in getting to the bottom of the issue to protect the citizens who have tasked them to serve and protect. The citizens whose tax dollars PAY for the service they have been tasked with.

    As I tweeted yesterday, how would the issue be treated if a group of women say visiting from a “First World” country for a conference at suddenly became ill from using bad tissue?

    The whole thing makes me sick!

  4. Andrea says:

    *shivers* there are some things we should be able to use, without thinking, that in using it, it brings a possibility that it will make you ill!

  5. IslandBeck says:

    Excellently written blog.
    Very insightful and thought provoking questions or which there are obvious insufficient answers.
    You have succinctly highlighted the weaknesses within GOJ and just how toothless a dog ALL our public sector administrations really are against corporate behemoths.
    I eagerly look fwd to more of your blogs.


  6. You vote, that’s how you sue them.

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