Antibacterial Ingredient Is Toxic for the Environment

Antibacterial Ingredient Is Toxic for the Environment

The antibacterial ingredient, triclosan, found in hand soaps to children’s toys, is harmful to the environment; Ottawa is looking for voluntary industry reduction.

A widely used antibacterial ingredient found in consumer products from hand soaps to toothpaste and children’s toys to textiles has been pronounced toxic to the environment. The federal government in Ottawa has just published a draft risk assessment of triclosan and has cited environmental concerns.

Wastewater discharge

The largest source of triclosan in the environment is through our sewer systems. When we wash our hands, brush our teeth, or clean our counters with a product containing triclosan, the wastewater that runs down the drain finds its way into our waterways.

Consequences to aquatic life

A study from the University of Victoria (UVic) has shown that triclosan can alter the metamorphosis of a frog by influencing its thyroid hormone production. “Thyroid hormones and the mechanisms by which they affect cells are highly conserved from frog to mammal,” says Dr. Caren Helbing, a UVic molecular biologist. “It’s highly likely that what affects frogs could affect mammals, even humans.”

Flushing it into soil

The other major source of triclosan in the environment comes from our sewage—even sewage that has been through the most rigorous treatment system. Triclosan has been found in the sludge that is the byproduct of sewage treatment. The concern, of course, is that this sludge is used for agricultural fertilizer and nurtures our soil.

No clear risk to human health

Ottawa’s draft risk assessment finds no direct risk to human health from using triclosan-containing cleaning products. Health Canada has also been looking at “the effects of triclosan on the body’s endocrine system and whether the antibacterial agent contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance,” though no definitive results have been announced.

Government calls for voluntary reduction

In the meantime, the federal government is calling on industry to voluntarily cut the amount of triclosan it uses, particularly in personal-care products that tend to get rinsed away into lakes and rivers.

“We are challenging industry to come forward and look at ways where they can put in voluntary measures to limit the amount of triclosan used and eventually released into the environment,” Dr. Robert Chenier of Environment Canada said in an interview. “Certainly the concentrations out there are sufficiently high where they could be having effects.”

What can we do?

We can all be aware of some of the consumer products that contain triclosan and make a concerted effort to avoid them. After all, research has proven that using simple warm water and soap is as effective as this harmful chemical.

Avoid it in such products as

  • hand soap (84 percent of antibacterial bar soaps and 100 percent of antibacterial liquid soaps)
  • toothpaste
  • shower gels
  • deodorant soaps
  • hand lotions and cremes
  • make-up
  • fragrance
  • foot gel
  • acne treatment
  • mouthwashes
  • underarm deodorants
  • cutting boards
  • countertops
  • floor tiles
  • wallpaper
  • toys
  • shoe insoles

Government consultation period

The government is calling on industry and interested stakeholders (that’s all of us) to submit comments that would help to inform decision making prior to May 30, 2012. We can also let our Member of Parliament know how we feel about this unnecessary ingredient.

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