(Beyond Pesticides, July 16, 2014) The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and Clean Production Action (CPA) released a comprehensive assessment of the hazards posed by triclosan and its chemical cousin triclocarbon Thursday, calling on the Canadian Government to create a comprehensive phase-out plan for these harmful antibacterial chemicals. The report, which finds that the chemicals are accumulating in the waters of the Great Lakes, also suggests that the U.S. and all provinces and states bordering the Great Lakes should prohibit use of the chemicals. The two antibacterial chemicals are commonly used in consumer products ranging from liquid soaps and toothpaste to kitchen cutting boards, and have come under increased scrutiny amidst human health concerns and lack of efficacy. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been calling for a ban on the household use of triclosan since 2009, and in 2012, the Canadian government declared triclosan as toxic to the environment. In the U.S., Beyond Pesticides has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its counterpart, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (which regulates non-cosmetic products with triclosan) for years to immediately ban triclosan from consumer products, citing endocrine disruption, and other human health concerns. Last December, FDA announced it will now require manufacturers to prove their antibacterial soaps are safe and effective.
Using a new tool, GreenScreen ® for Safer Chemicals, which compares chemical hazards to assess the environmental and human health profile of triclosan and triclocarban, CELA and CPA found that triclosan is a Benchmark 1 substance — a chemical to be avoided. Triclocarban is ranked as a Benchmark 2 with very high aquatic toxicity. “The advantage of the GreenScreen assessment tool is that it comprehensively looks at the full range of impacts —from human health to environmental harm— of a substance and allows users and regulators to better understand if a chemical should be avoided, substituted, or can continue to be used. This is a better alternative to the often siloed approach taken by regulators, which can send unclear signals to the market. For example, Health Canada says that triclosan is safe for humans —despite its endocrine system effects, but Environment Canada considers it toxic and highly damaging to the natural environment. With over 1,600 consumer products containing triclosan and hundreds more containing triclocarban, consumers are left in the dark about how toxic these antibacterial chemicals are in the environment,” says Bev Thorpe, Consulting Co-Director of Clean Production Action, the host organization for GreenScreen.
Beyond Pesticides has generated extensive documentation of the potential human and environmental health effects of triclosan. Studies show that it can interfere with thyroid and estrogen hormones, and may promote the progression of cancer cells. This is alarming given that the CDC has found that 75% of the U.S. population contains triclosan in their bodies, even in breast milk, and at levels that are rising. Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones and possibly fetal development. It is also shown to alter thyroid function. A recent study also linked triclosan to the growth of breast cancer cells.
“What’s particularly alarming is the range of impacts these chemicals are having —from damaging aquatic ecosystems, including the Great Lakes, to interfering with human endocrine systems. When you realize that 95% of triclosan and the vast majority of triclocarban ends up going down the drain, the fact that both pose a very high toxic hazard to aquatic organisms is very bad news for our lakes and rivers,” noted CELA researcher Fe de Leon.
Triclosan is no more effective than regular soap and water in controlling germs and bacteria. In fact, an FDA Advisory Committee, and the American Medical Association both find that there is no evidence that triclosan is effective for its intended use. Instead, triclosan is linked toincreasing bacterial resistance and cross-resistance to crucial antibiotic medications —possibly threatening public health. A study published in April found that individuals exposed to triclosan were more likely to carry staph bacteria. Rather than eliminate dangerous bacteria in and on the body, the study found that triclosan promotes the binding of staph to human proteins making them “stickier.” Triclosan also allows staph to better attach to other surfaces such as glass and plastic.
Fortunately, despite slow federal response to regulating these chemicals, in both the U.S. and Canada, smaller locales are willing to phase out the use of these chemicals and from their products. One Great Lake state, Minnesota announced in May that it would ban the chemical in personal care and cleaning products. A 2013 study showed triclosan toxicants accumulating in the bottom of lakes and rivers in Minnesota.
In addition to state action, multinational corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive began reformulating to remove triclosan from their products for several years now. Avon joined these companies earlier in 2014, announcing it will begin phasing the chemical out of “the few” products in its line that include it. Avon cites customer concern as its reason for reformulating.
“As triclosan comes under increasing scrutiny, it is essential that we do not replace it with another hazardous chemical, like triclocarban. You would think this would be common sense but the recent case of dangerous plastic microbeads in cosmetic products, demonstrate that many manufacturers are still not anticipating the potential harm chemicals may have in the environment” notes consulting Co-Director Thorpe. “We are calling on companies and regulators to stop the toxic treadmill of ongoing hazardous chemical use by using tools like GreenScreen to better understand the hazards of any chemical before it is put into consumer goods.”
Beyond Pesticides also urges concerned consumers to join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today. Read the label of personal care products in order to avoid those containing triclosan. Encourage your local schools, government agencies, and local businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free. Urge your municipality, school, or company to adopt the model resolution which commits to not procuring or using products containing triclosan.
For additional information on the human health and environmental effects of triclosan see Beyond Pesticides’ Antibacterials program page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Green Screen
Photo Source: Canadian Environmental Law Association