(Beyond Pesticides, August 27, 2009) At its annual convention, the Canadian Medical Association called on the federal government to ban the sale of household antibacterial products such as those containing triclosan. The motion was proposed by Ottawa family physician Kapil Khatter, M.D., who is also president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. He says he can understand the appeal of antibacterial products, but in reality they do more harm than good.
Strong scientific evidence suggests that pervasive use of triclosan poses imminent threats to human health and the environment, which is why Beyond Pesticides and Food and Water Watch submitted an amended petition a month ago to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeking to ban the use of the controversial pesticide triclosan for non-medical applications. The petition establishes that FDA’s allowance of triclosan in the retail market violates the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act.
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.”
“It’s about time that the problems with triclosan were addressed,” says Linda Duncan, a member of the Canadian Parliament for the New Democratic Party and long time environmentalist. “We must ensure that the medical community has all the tools it needs to control the spread of bacteria, and avoid abusing antibacterials to the detriment of health and the environment.”
Regulated by both the FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), triclosan is an antibacterial used in hundreds of common consumer products such as soaps, cosmetics, deodorants, toys, and even clothing. Such widespread use in everyday consumer products can contribute to the rise of resistant bacteria, lessening their effectiveness, and they can affect the environment in runoff and wastewater.
A U.S Geological Survey (USGS) study found that triclosan is one of the most detected chemicals in U.S. waterways and at some of the highest concentrations, because it is so frequently used in households and washed down the drains. Triclosan has been found to be highly toxic to different types of algae, keystone organisms for complex aquatic ecosystems. A recent U.S. EPA survey of sewage sludge found that triclosan and its cousin triclocarban were detected in sewage sludge at the highest concentrations out of 72 tested pharmaceuticals.
Scientific studies indicate that widespread use of triclosan causes a number of serious health and environmental problems. Among these issues is the resistance to antibiotic medications and bacterial cleansers, a problem for all people, but especially vulnerable populations such as infants and the elderly. Triclosan is also a known endocrine disruptor and has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones, which could potentially increase risk for breast cancer. A recent study found that triclosan alters thyroid function in male rats. Other studies have found that due to its extensive use in consumer goods, triclosan and its metabolites are present in waterways, fish, human milk, serum, urine, and foods. Further, the pesticide can also interact with other chemicals to form dioxin and chloroform, thereby exposing consumers to even more dangerous chemicals.
Handwashing with soap and water is essential. An FDA panel concluded that triclosan soaps are no more effective than washing hands with soap and water. The Center for Disease Control recommends that children wash their hands several times a day for 20 seconds or the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
“Really all you need is soap and water and the alcohol rubs that are available,” says Dr. Khatter. “There isn’t any benefit to going to these other products – there’s only potential harm.”
For more information, including the hazards of triclosan and tips on how to get it out of your school, office or community, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Triclosan program page.