Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why antibacterial products are bad for you and the environment

Does your toothpaste pass the “GreenScreen Assessment”?
If you use Colgate Total the answer is no. Total brand toothpaste contains the antibacterial triclosan, a chemical currently under review in the U.S. because it is suspected of contributing to all sorts of health and environmental problems.

The GreenScreenAssessment is a tool recently used by the Canadian Environmental Law Association to assess the impact of antibacterial products on human health and the environment. Based on the resulting report the Association called on the Canadian government to ban antibacterials (triclosan and triclocarban). The report says that the risks posed by these chemicals to human health and the environment far outweigh the benefits.

The report comes on the heels of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to revisit the use of these chemicals in the States. In particular, the agency has been challenged on its 1997 approval of Colgate brand Total toothpaste, the only toothpaste currently on the market that contains triclosan. Environmental groups say the approval was made without any significant proof that the product was even safe.

In Canada these chemicals are everywhere.
Antibacterial soaps, facial tissue, toys, toothpaste. According to CBC news, roughly 1600 products containing the chemicals are sold in Canada. Companies are riding the wave of germ paranoia although there is no evidence that these products are any better than simple washing with soap and water (or using regular old toothpaste).

The problem comes with the fact that these chemicals work their way into our bodies and accumulate in the environment.  They are popular in personal care products and in turn get washed down the drain.

A Canadian government review a couple of years ago found triclosan in consumer products was not harmful to human health although it’s not certain on what data they based their decision. The government did acknowledge that the chemicals could be harmful to the environment so said they would discuss with industry a voluntary reduction in use. 

In the absence of any meaningful regulation it’s up to consumers to avoid antibacterial products. Here’s why you should take them off your shopping list:

  • There are concerns that the triclosan and triclocarban are hormone disruptors, and specifically point to how they may interfere with thyroid hormone, which could lead to health issues like obesity, cancer, infertility and early puberty (linked to increased risk for breast cancer). There is also evidence that young children exposed to triclosan have a greater chance of developing allergies.
  • There are concerns that the chemicals contribute to antibiotic resistance or the development of “super bugs). This worry is the basis of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s review.
  • Human impacts are amplified in the environment since the chemical makes its way through sewerage treatment plants and accumulates in the environment.

Under the U.S. government review companies using these chemicals have until 2016 to prove that they are both safe and effective.  With luck, the Canadian government will follow suit.