Blog: Government’s Low Reduction Targets for the Widely Used Antimicrobial Substance Triclosan Continue to Disappoint Environmentalists: Lacks protection for Canadian Lakes, Rivers, and Human Health


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The federal government’s proposal to set a 30% reduction for the widely used antimicrobial substance triclosan continues to disappoint environment and health groups in Canada, which have spent years calling for the government to set elimination targets. Triclosan is used as an antimicrobial agent in hundreds of consumer and personal care product, including toothpaste and mouthwash, but a growing number of studies have shown that it has not been effective in increasing protection from bacteria spread. At the same time, triclosan has been shown to have toxic impacts when released into water bodies.

Canada’s proposal will not provide the level of protection that our lakes and rivers need from the toxic effects of triclosan. A regulatory target to eliminate triclosan from consumer and personal care products would be more protective and in line with US states – Minnesota, New York and New Jersey – that have banned its use.

Instead, the Canadian government’s proposal is to achieve a 30% reduction of triclosan in the environment by issuing a Pollution Prevention Planning Notice under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act – with industry itself being required to develop and implement the plans. Meanwhile, disappointed by the lack of aggressive targets set by the federal government, nearly 1,000 Canadians have taken the pledge to eliminate triclosan from their own homes and workplaces.

In 2017, the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban 2017 was signed by over 200 scientists and medical professionals urging action to “Avoid the use of triclosan, triclocarban, and other antimicrobial chemicals except where they provide an evidence-based health benefit (e.g., physician-prescribed toothpaste for treating gum disease) and there is adequate evidence demonstrating they are safe.”

The government has an opportunity to stimulate change in how consumer products are manufactured if regulatory triggers are in place to ban triclosan. The low reduction target doesn’t create the right triggers for users, manufacturers and importers to move away from triclosan or other similar toxic substances towards safe alternatives. Canadians should be concerned that many of their sensitive and significant water bodies will continue to see the impacts of triclosan for years to come without aggressive targets set by our decision makers.

Since 2012, environment and health groups have repeatedly submitted comprehensive comments to the Canadian government on the assessment of triclosan. These groups have expressed concern that triclosan was found to be toxic to the environment but was not recognized as toxic to human health, and have called on the government for a comprehensive ban of triclosan from consumer and personal care products. The latest submissions by environmental and health organizations on the government proposal was February 27, 2018 and can be found here.

Triclosan is known to be persistent and bioaccumulative in the aquatic environment and other organisms. Once released to the environment, triclosan breaks down into toxic by-products including chlorinated phenols and biphenyl ethers (as a result of chlorination process), methyl triclosan (from biological methylation), and chlorinated dibenzodioxins (after photooxidation). Triclosan is also a suspected endocrine disrupting substance and is associated with reproductive and developmental impacts in animal and in vitro studies.