The federal government recently released a report that assesses and provides current figures on people’s exposure to environmental chemicals. The data, compiled from approximately 5,800 Canadians aged 3 to 79 years, shows increases and decreases from a variety of chemicals but there is one in particular that is causing a stir, triclosan.
You may not be familiar with triclosan but it can be found in many personal care products such as cleansers, cosmetics, laundry detergent, and facial tissues. It functions as an excellent preservative and as an antibacterial agent. Considering how common it is, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the latest report showed an increase in Canadians’ bodies. What’s concerning to some is that the federal government declared triclosan toxic to the environment in 2012. However, it is still categorized as safe for humans to use in certain amounts.
In response to the report, environment action organization Environmental Defence quickly issued a statement. “It is troubling to see an increase in the presence of triclosan, an antibacterial chemical linked to hormone disruption and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” said Toxics Program Manager Maggie MacDonald. “The federal government…has failed to take any action to limit Canadians’ exposure – we need a ban now.”
These debates are the heart of VisionTV’s investigative documentary series Organic Panic. Chemicals are categorized in a variety of ways and Health Canada doesn’t change its conclusions just because Environment Canada says that something is toxic for the environment. To navigate these conflicting ideas, a questioning consumer is given the opportunity to meet with experts like author and environmental columnist for NOW Magazine Adria Vasil and Dr. Joe Schwarcz, Director of McGill University’s “Office for Science & Society”. Both have a lot to say on the subject of Triclosan.
Dr. Joe Schwarcz is not willing to damn triclosan just yet. He acknowledges that removing it from our products would not result in Canadians being worse off. However, he says further investigation is required to know if the chemical could disrupt normal hormone activity as critics have claimed.
Furthermore, Dr. Schwarcz agrees that the industry is technically correct in claiming that there are no acute effects of the chemical. In a recent piece to the Montreal Gazette, he wrote, “Triclosan has no acute toxicity since its biological effect is based on the compound’s ability to block a key bacterial enzyme that humans do not possess…No specific health or environmental consequence has been linked to the widespread use of triclosan.”
The risk versus benefit of any chemical should be evaluated before use (after all, water is a chemical that can kill you in the wrong quantities). According to Health Canada, there is a concentration of triclosan that is safe: 0.03% in mouthwashes and 0.3% in cosmetics, for example. However, environmental columnist Adria Vasil isn’t swayed by the government’s confidence. In response to the release of the new data, she says “Over 50 public interest and not-for-profit groups in Canada and the US (including physician and nurse associations) recently joined together to say we know enough about the environmental and health risks for our governments to ban triclosan today.”
If you are uncomfortable with your personal care products containing any amount of triclosan, avoid products on this list made by Beyond Pesticides. Also, consider taking Adria Vasil’s advice: “Read your ingredient lists and double check that the personal care products you’re bringing into your home don’t contain triclosan. There’s really no need for it and there are countless soaps, toothpastes, deodorants, etc that don’t contain the stuff and get the job done just as well.”
Tune into Organic Panic on Mondays from July 27 to August 24 at 10pm ET/7 PT to learn more about the chemicals in your life. The five part series tackles cosmetics, personal care products, food, fashion, and homes. Our curious consumers are guided through the wild world of organic vs. non-organic shopping and living with experts such as Dr. Joe Schwarcz, author/journalist Adria Vasil, and “There’s Lead In Your Lipstick” author and broadcaster Gill Deacon.
If you would like to learn more about triclosan, make sure to watch on Monday, August 3 at 10pm ET/7 PT for an entire episode about personal care products and the politics of cosmetics.