After a scientific assessment and years of consultation, the Government of Canada has decided to add triclosan to the List of Toxic Substances in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Triclosan is a substance often seen in personal care products, like antibacterial soap and toothpaste. It was first used in hospitals in the 1960s to help stop the growth and spread of bacteria. It has since grown in popularity and is now seen in thousands of consumer products around the world, 1,600 in Canada alone.
In recent years, however, numerous studies have shown it has harmful effects on the environment and on human health:
- Triclosan breaks down and forms toxic byproducts, such as dioxins, a known cancer-causing agent.
- Wastewater treatment plants can’t always filter it out, so products that contain triclosan that get flushed down the drain can end up in the water.
- Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with hormone function in humans and wildlife.
- Triclosan encourages bacterial resistance to antibiotics, meaning it has the opposite effect of its intended purpose of keeping us healthy.
The Government of Canada has officially recognized the harmful effect triclosan has on the environment and is the reason for adding it to the List of Toxic Substances. However, despite numerous scientific studies and bans from other countries, Health Canada has concluded that triclosan is not a human health concern and will not be banning the substance from personal care products. Instead of an outright ban, Health Canada is calling for maximum acceptable limits in cosmetic products: a concentration of triclosan of no more than 0.03% in mouthwashes and 0.3% in other cosmetics, such as soaps.
This plan is inadequate. More protections are needed, both for the environment and our health.
This is why Lake Ontario Waterkeeper recently signed on to a joint statement, alongside more than 30 other organizations, asking the government to reconsider its stance on triclosan.
Specifically, the 30+ organizations involved in the submission make the following seven recommendations:
Recommendation: We support the order to add triclosan to the Toxic Substances List (Schedule 1) to CEPA 1999.
Recommendation: We do not support the use of a non-regulatory tool such as Pollution Prevention Plans to address triclosan levels in the environment.
Recommendation: We urge the government to reconsider a regulatory tool that would prohibit the use of triclosan in consumer products.
Recommendation: We urge the government to consider the 20 recent studies that have been referenced in a detailed submission on triclosan by environmental and health groups submitted January 26, 2017 (See Appendix).
Recommendation: We urge the government to require informed substitution (including the option of omitting antimicrobial additives) by applying alternative assessments, to avoid regrettable substitutions to triclosan, to address potential contributions to antimicrobial resistance, and to ensure safe substitutes for triclosan.
Recommendation: We urge the government to recognize and to improve its communication and awareness efforts to inform the public that plain soap and warm water are just as effective as antibacterials for disease prevention. Increased focus on this approach will avoid the use of alternatives (including triclocarban) that may have similar environmental and health impacts to triclosan.
Recommendation: We urge the government to expedite assessment, including cumulative assessment of other antimicrobial chemicals (e.g. triclocarban) in consumer products, for environmental and health reasons, as well as curtail development of antimicrobial resistance.
Be sure to check below for the full submission, which also includes more information on the effects triclosan has on the environment and human health.
What you can do
To better protect our waterways, the easiest and best thing to do is to just avoid products containing triclosan altogether. Check the ingredient list on your soaps, toothpastes, shampoos, and other personal care products. Cosmetics and non-prescription drugs are required to list triclosan if it is an ingredient.