Q: Is Health Canada banning toxic antibacterials?
A: Have you developed a deep fear of your sponge? Terrified of touching subway poles? If you've answered yes to these questions, you may already have another villain lurking in your midst: triclosan.
The ingredient is in all kinds of antibacterial products, and six weeks ago the feds said they'd finally come around to recognizing triclosan as an official environmental toxin - a "danger to the environment" and aquatic life downstream "even at very low concentrations."
A great first stop, say enviros. The big problem is the feds aren't banning the endocrine disruptor, just politely asking companies to phase it out over time. Why am I telling you this again now? We've got until the end of the month to submit public comments.
Just this week, Environmental Defence turned up the heat by releasing a new report called The Trouble With Triclosan. The group tested the blood of eight famous Canadians, including organics superstar chef Jamie Kennedy, Sook-Yin Lee, Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, and found all of them had triclosan floating through their bodies.
"The average amount of triclosan in our volunteers was found to be above the level at which triclosan is toxic to marine organisms, including certain species of algae, crustaceans and fish."
While Health Canada maintains we needn't be concerned about triclosan's impact on our health, Environmental Defence toxic program manager Maggie MacDonald says, "There are real reasons to worry."
According to the report, "Evidence shows that triclosan mimics hormones and affects cells that are important to immune function." We're still waiting for more research on the impact that constant, daily exposure to this chemical has on humans. But so far, the Canadian Medical Association has voiced its concern that it may be contributing to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or super-bugs. The org's been asking for a ban since 2009. Marks & Spencer in the UK has banned it since 2004.
Now, this chemical isn't just used in your acne wash, hand soap, toothpaste and aluminum-free deodorants like Soft & Dry and Adidas. Health Canada says it's been notified of triclosan use in 1,600 cosmetics and personal care products, over 130 non-prescription drugs, and 13 natural health products, though they may not all be on shelves today.
And this pesticide (that's how triclosan is classified) has also permeated hundreds of other products in our homes, well beyond body care.
Anything labelled "antibacterial" can technically contain triclosan, as can products with the following trademarked names: Amicor, Aquasept, Bactonex, Irgasan DP300, Microban, Monolith, Sanitized, Sapoderm, Ster-Zac and Ultra-Fresh. But it can be impossible to decipher whether the product contains triclosan from the label.
Case in point: Toronto-based Thompson Research Associates, which makes the Ultra-Fresh antibacterial treatment used by over 500 manufacturers in over 40 countries, offers both nano-free silver and triclosan. The company says you can find Ultra-Fresh on all sorts of textiles, including underwear and lingerie, sportswear, bath towels and mats, tea towels, shower curtains, drapes, pillows, duvets and even crib mattresses and diapers.
The Ultra-Fresh website offers a map of your household and says you may also find it in boots, insoles, carpets, countertops, garden hoses, cutting boards, office supplies, toilet seats, rubber gloves, hairbrushes, flooring, mops and beyond. I've spotted it on ginger graters, pillow protectors, humidifiers, comforters and chip makers. You'd have to call the company directly to find out if a specific Ultra-Fresh product contains triclosan or silver.
FYI, while the feds will be asking body-care companies to phase out triclosan use, they'll be leaving everyone else - pillow-makers, cutting board sellers and the like - alone. Shame, considering manufacturers acknowledge that their triclosan treatment on, say, clothing, will wash out a little with each laundering. And down the drain it goes.
People, we've got until May 30 to submit our comments, so rally your friends and let the feds know you want triclosan banned altogether today. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh, and if you're wondering how to dispose of products that contain triclosan, like hand soap, bring 'em to the household hazardous waste depot or your neighbourhood Environment Day. Toronto may not officially call it hazardous waste, but other municipalities like Mississauga do. If they ask, tell them Environment Canada shouldn't allow us to dump a known toxin down the drain.