Latin America and the Caribbean

August 1995


Inhalant abuse, a leading killer of Latin American street children and an invisible drug problem in the U.S., is posing some complex ethical and safety questions for makers of commonplace products. Caught in the crossfire is H. B. Fuller, Inc. (St. Paul, Minn.), whose leather glue, Resistol, has become so synonymous with inhalant abuse that, in some countries, young abusers are referred to as resistoleros.

Where the ultimate solution lies is better law enforcement and education, the child advocacy group, Covenant House (New York, N.Y.) is pushing for product reformulation as an interim step. Its Latin American branch, Casa Alianza, has demanded that Fuller add the irritant mustard oil to its existing cyclohexane-based product, until it moves to a water-based formula. The glue was originally made with toluene, but Casa Alianza contends that cyclohexane isn't much better, and plans to launch a class action lawsuit against Fuller to drive home its point. A wrongful death suit was filed in Houston last January on behalf of the mother of one abuser.

Fuller, which is working on a water-based formula, says that adding the oil will endanger legitimate users. Mustard oil is metabolized in mammalian cells as allylisothiocyanate, which may be carcinogenic. Dangers would be magnified in hot, commercial settings, where people handle gallons of the material, says Rick Kingston, senior toxicologist with the Minnesota Regional Poison Control Center (St. Paul).

however, neither the oil nor its metabolite are on the National Toxicology Program's suspected carcinogen list. Testor Corp. (Rockford, Ill.) has used mustard oil in its airplane glue since 1968 with no ill effects, says Guy Carynski, director of regulatory affairs.

Honduras and Guatemala, where Resistol sales are strictly controlled, now require that solvent-based glues contain mustard oil. Given the number of legal alternatives available, Fuller questions what impact this will have. As Kingston puts it, "Gasoline will always be there."


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