(Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty)
Triclosan: You may have never heard of it, but chances are that you and your family use products that contain it regularly. Triclosan is a preservative and an anti-bacterial agent used in 1,600 cosmetics and personal care products in Canada -- including things like anti-bacterial soaps, hand washes, toothpaste and deodorants. It's even found in toys. Increasingly, scientific evidence shows that it is harmful to the environment and humans -- especially children. And it doesn't work particularly well.
That's why the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently made the decision to ban it in soaps and hand washes -- the European Union passed a similar ban last January. Both Australia and Japan have set limits on triclosan in hand washes far below the levels permitted in Canada. When our federal government finally indicated it would be announcing its long awaited final assessment of triclosan this month, we were hopeful that it too would make a science-based, precautionary decision to keep triclosan out of soaps and hand washes.
Triclosan can pass through skin and poses serious risks to health.
Unfortunately, however, there is to be no ban on triclosan-containing soaps and handwashes in Canada like there is in the U.S. The government's decision is completely inadequate. Here's why.
What is triclosan?
Triclosan can pass through skin and poses serious risks to health. It interferes with normal thyroid hormone functions that regulate metabolism. Triclosan exerts weak estrogenic activity, raising concerns about possible reproductive impacts. Normal hormone function is important to children's health. That's why groups including the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment recommend against exposing children to hormone-disrupting chemicals such as triclosan.
Triclosan also adversely affects health by contributing to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant germs or "superbugs", thus decreasing the effectiveness of antibiotics. That's why groups such as the Canadian Medical Association have called for a ban on antibacterial consumer products, including soaps and sanitizers containing triclosan.
Triclosan is known to be toxic to aquatic plants and animals even at low concentrations -- causing reduction in growth and reproduction, and impacting survival. It bioaccumulates (becomes concentrated) in fish and has been detected in numerous waterbodies across Canada because it is continually released when products containing triclosan are washed down the drain. Triclosan can transform into dioxins, a highly toxic group of chemicals, when it degrades in surface water while exposed to sunlight. Alarmingly, it also has the potential to react with chlorine in drinking water to form the carcinogen chloroform.
(Photo: Hugh Stoneian via Getty Images)
Despite advertising campaigns espousing the benefits of antibacterial soap use, experts including the FDA, the Canadian Pediatric Society, and the Canadian Medical Association agree there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps containing triclosan are more effective than regular soap and water. The only circumstances in which these products may be beneficial are in hospital and health care settings, or the homes of persons with serious diseases impacting the immune system, where preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacteria on hands is critical.
In other words, for the vast majority of Canadians triclosan-containing soaps and hand washes should not be used in our homes, offices, daycares or schools. In those places, they can cause serious harm to people and the environment while offering no benefits. Stick with regular soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
The Canadian government's underwhelming announcement
The FDA's decision to ban consumer antiseptic wash products containing triclosan and other substances, such as triclocarban, was based on the risks and the ineffectiveness of triclosan and several other substances used in antiseptic washes and soaps. Manufacturers failed to demonstrate that the banned ingredients were both safe for long-term use and more effective than regular soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of infections.
Health Canada's decision does not reflect the fact that triclosan is ineffective.
Although Environment and Climate Change Canada determined four years ago that triclosan is toxic to the environment, Health Canada has maintained its position that it does not meet the standard for human health toxicity. Although the Ministers have proposed adding triclosan to the List of Toxic Substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the risk management measures will focus on the release of triclosan to surface water via wastewater treatment plants. It will not, however, focus on reducing risk to children and other members of our society who are exposed to the substance through consumer products.
Health Canada's decision does not reflect the fact that triclosan is ineffective. Why accept the risks when there is no benefit to Canadians?
It's time to ban triclosan in Canada
With the U.S. ban on triclosan, some fear that we may see an increase in triclosan products for sale in Canada, because they can no longer be sold south of the border. If this happens we may see an increase in the use of triclosan-containing soaps and washes in Canada, increasing the levels in our bodies and our environment.
Since its emergence in the late 1960s, scientific understanding about the risks posed by triclosan has grown. Governments around the world are recognizing that the serious risks posed by triclosan and corresponding lack of any benefit when used in consumer products mean there is no justification for allowing the substance on store shelves. It's time Canada followed suit.
Toothpaste containing triclosan in 2014. (Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images)
To help encourage the government to take action before it's too late, we've worked with other concerned groups to submit comments urging the government to take a stronger approach to banning toxics in our environment. While it's not going to be easy, we know that it is important to keep substances that may harm our communities, children, and environment off store shelves.
Ecojustice, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment ("CAPE"), Équiterre, Environmental Defence, and the David Suzuki Foundation ("DSF") responded to the Government of Canada's risk management plan for Triclosan.
The groups made a submission to the Government of Canada about its risk management plan for Triclosan, outlining concerns that Canadians and aquatic environments will be exposed to chemicals that other countries have banned.
Dr. Elaine MacDonald is Ecojustice's Healthy Communities Program Director and Staff Scientist. Kaitlyn Mitchell is an Ecojustice lawyer.
See more at Ecojustica.ca.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
How You Wear It Personal care products such as perfume, eye shadow, moisturizer, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray Why You Wear It Phthalates are a part of a family of man-made chemicals used in cosmetics manufacturing as a lubricant and to help make fragrances last longer. They're also used as an additive in to increase flexibility and durability in plastic and vinyl products. How It Affects You Research suggests that Phthalates can upset hormone levels, which can potentially disrupt fertility and cause reproductive birth defects.
How You Wear It Wool, Leather Why You Wear It Nonylphenol Ethoxylates or Nonylphenols (NPEs) are traditionally used during manufacturing to wash fabrics, often post-dyeing. They are most commonly used in wool scouring and leather processing to remove natural oils. How It Affects You Like phthalates, NPEs are known to disrupt hormone levels. Exposure to high levels of NPEs can result in irritation of the lungs, digestive system, skin and eyes. When discharged into the water supply, NPEs have proven toxic to fish and other aquatic wildlife.
How You Wear It Outwear such as rain coats and shoes, Clothing labeled "no-iron" Why You Wear It Fabrics are often treated with per-and poly-flourinated chemicals (PFCs) to make them water-repellent. PFCs are also used during textile production to help clothing last longer and keep them wrinkle-free. How It Affects You According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PFCs are toxic to animals and wildlife, resulting in reproductive, developmental, and systemic problems in laboratory tests. While there are no known significant effects on human subjects to date, continued exposure could eventually result in adverse health outcomes.
How You Wear It Socks, shoes and other athletic gear; Clothing labeled "odor-resistant" Why You Wear It Organotins are used as a fungicide in textile production to prevent odors caused by sweat. The anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of this chemical also help to limit damage to goods during shipping. How It Affects You Research suggests that even low levels of exposure to organotin compounds can prove toxic to both humans and animals, with damaging effects on the immune and nervous system development.
How You Wear It Polyester Why You Wear It Antimony trioxide is often applied as a chemical additive in textile manufacturing to help produce synthetic fabrics such as polyester. How It Affects You While the EPA has not classified antimony as a carcinogen, chronic exposure to this chemical can yield devastating respiratory effects including inflammation of the lungs, chronic bronchitis and chronic emphysema. In laboratory tests, antimony has been reported to cause lung tumors in animal subjects.
How You Wear It Cosmetics such as makeup, moisturizers, and shampoos Why You Wear It Parabens are commonly found in cosmetic and personal care products to help curb the growth of fungus and other bacteria. How It Affects You Not only are parabens suspected of interfering with hormone function, one concerning study has detected parabens in human breast cancer tissue.
How You Wear It Fabric finishes labeled "anti-shrink," "anti-static,""anti-cling," "waterproof" and/or "wrinkle-free" Why You Wear It A formaldehyde product is often applied to fabrics during textile production to prevent shrinkage and to apply other special treatments. How It Affects You According to the EPA, formaldehyde is known to cause certain cancers and other short-term health effects including eye, nose and throat irritation, wheezing and coughing, fatigue and skin rash in both animals and humans.
How You Wear It Children's Pajamas Why You Wear It As per the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commision guidelines, children's sleepwear is required by law to pass certain flammability tests and accordingly toxic flame-retardents are often applied to your little one's PJs during manufacturing. How It Affects You Research indicates that flame retardant solutions such as Proban have been linked to genetic abnormalities and damages to the liver, skin and nervous systems.
Follow Ecojustice on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ecojustice_ca