Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 28, 2012. The Canadian government is set to declare the bacteria killer found in many toothpastes, mouthwashes and anti-bacterial soaps as toxic to the environment, a move which could see the use of the chemical curtailed sharply in Canada. Triclosan, the chemical in question, has been linked to numerous human and environmental health effects and has been the subject of petitions calling for its ban from consumer products.
Health Canada has been probing the effects of triclosan on the body’s endocrine system and whether the antibacterial agent contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance along with the effect of widespread use on the environment. The draft risk assessment finds triclosan to be toxic to the environment but but does not find enough evidence to say it is hazardous to human health. The formal proposal to list the chemical as toxic to the environment will be published Friday.
Triclosan exploded on to the marketplace in hundreds of consumer products ranging from antibacterial soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, cosmetics, fabrics, toys, and other household and personal care products. While antibacterial products are marketed as agents that protect and safeguard against potential harmful bacteria, studies conclude that antibacterial soaps show no health benefits over plain soaps. The scientific literature has extensively linked the uses of triclosan, and its cousin triclocarban, to many health and environmental hazards. As an endocrine disruptor, triclosan has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones and possibly fetal development, and also shown to alter thyroid function. Triclosan is not only an endocrine disruptor found at increasing concentrations in human urine and breast milk, but also contaminates waterways and possibly even drinking water. Despite industry claims, triclosan is not very effective against harmful bacteria, including those found in hospitals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has found that triclosan is present in the urine of 75% of the U.S. population, with concentrations that have increased by 42% since 2004. USDA scientists found that triclosan is only slowly degraded in biosolids and persists at low levels in the environment for long periods of time. Biosolids are typically recycled on to agricultural lands. Triclosan can then be taken up and translocated in plants like the soybean, a cornerstone of the American diet. The prevalence of triclosan in the nation’s waterways is a cause for concern since triclosan is converted into several toxic compounds including various forms of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds when exposed to sunlight in an aqueous environment. For more on triclosan, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Antimicrobial page.
A toxic designation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act triggers a process to find ways to curtail a chemical’s use, including a possible ban in a range of personal-care products. Canada’s proposed toxic designation comes as other regulators wrestle with what to do with triclosan. The Canadian government reviewed the safety of triclosan under the government’s Chemicals Management Plan (CMP). The plan, first announced in 2006 with a startup budget of $300 million, initially identified 200 “high-priority” chemicals to undergo safety assessments over five years. When chemicals are deemed to be toxic to human health or the environment under this program, the government then outlines risk-management steps to be taken to protect people or the environment.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been calling for a ban on the household use of triclosan since 2009, when the organization raised serious concerns about the potential for increased bacterial resistance and argued the benefits are minimal compared to regular washing with soap. The CMA resolution echoes concerns raised not only by Beyond Pesticides, but also by the American Medical Association (AMA) that date as far back as 2000, citing the lack of studies pertaining to the health and environmental effects of its widespread use. Because no data exists to support the need for such products or dispute scientific concerns about their contribution to bacterial resistance, the AMA decided that it would be “prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products.”
Read “Industry Study Touts ‘Safety’ of Triclosan Soaps, Dismissing Independent Adverse Effects Data.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stated that existing data raise “valid concerns” about the possible health effects of repetitive daily exposure to triclosan and is expected is unveil its own risk assessment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was recently cited for its lax regulation of antimicrobial substances such as triclosan by the Inspestor General. However, a growing body of research is demonstrating that human and environmental contamination is almost certainly unavoidable, even if stronger regulation were imposed, as long as the chemicals remain on the market.
Beyond Pesticides in 2004 began voicing concern about the dangers of triclosan and in 2009 and 2010 submitted petitions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling for the removal of triclosan from consumer products. Since then, many major companies are quietly and quickly removing triclosan from their products. Colgate-Palmolive, makers of SoftSoap, and GlaxoSmithKline, makers of Aquafresh and Sensodyne toothpastes, have reformulated these products to exclude triclosan, according to media reports. Others, including Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, The Body Shop, and Staples, have started phasing it out of products. After opening the petition for public comment in 2011, over 10,000 individuals told EPA via email and docketed comments to ban triclosan. Additionally, scores of public health and advocacy groups, local state departments of health and the environment, as well as municipal and national wastewater treatment agencies submitted comments requesting an end to triclosan in consumer products.
Avoid triclosan-containing products, such as soap, toothpaste, toys and other plastics. Join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today. Encourage your local schools, government agencies, and local businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free. Urge your municipality and workplace to adopt the model resolution that commits to not procuring or using products containing triclosan.
Sources: Edmonton Journal, beyondpesticides.org
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.