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Triclosan: it’s in you, and now dolphins too

All those anti-bacterial soaps you squirt on your hands to kill germs dead? The bug-killing compound of choice is usually triclosan, which isn’t just in liquid hand soaps, but also an ingredient in more than 700 consumer products, including toothpastes, laundry detergents, cosmetics and deodorants. Clothing, mattresses, toys, first-aid equipment, toys, cookware, furniture fabrics and even computers and other electronics equipment are treated with triclosan to reduce or prevent the spread of bacteria.

And now scientists have found triclosan in dolphins that swim off the east coast of the United States, which means it’s ‘out there’ everywhere, and moving through the ocean’s food chain. It has also been detected in the Great Lakes. Triclosan is a common contaminant in sewage treatment systems – many products containing this chemical eventually get washed down the drain and into sewers – but sewage treatment plants do not effectively remove it; hence, the presence of triclosan in the Great Lakes.

Should we worry? If you believe in being cautious about the ingredients in the products you use everyday, then definitely ‘yes’. The concentrations of triclosan found in dolphins are known to disrupt the hormones and growth and development of other animals. The Environmental Working Group says there are many other reasons for concern, including ‘ominous hints of carcinogenicity’ in humans. And there’s already a class action lawsuit in the US for ‘victims of triclosan’ .

Despite the growing use of triclosan in consumer products, there is very little evidence to indicate that this chemical is necessary for use by the general public in the fight against the spread of infectious diseases. There is concern by a section of the scientific community that bacteria will eventually become resistant to triclosan. Therefore, it can lose its effectiveness as an anti-microbial chemical.

Health Canada has restricted the amounts of triclosan in mouthwash and other cosmetic products but it is not a banned chemical. Health Canada has also issued additional warnings for oral products containing triclosan. Despite these restrictions regarding its usage in cosmetics and mouthwash, triclosan is listed for review by the Canadian government in its Challenge Program, Chemicals Management Plan, as a chemical with a potential for harm to the environment – though not to human health. This is somewhat disconcerting.

Because of the widespread use of triclosan in soaps and some cosmetics, check the product ingredient list for its presence. Here are some tips for cleaning without triclosan:

  • Wash hands regularly with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds – before meals and food preparation, after using the bathroom and after attending to a sick person in the home;
  • Dry hands with a clean towel;
  • Wash children’s hands and toys frequently so as to prevent infection;
  • Wash surfaces that come in contact with food with detergent and water.

Some alternative chemicals with antimicrobial properties that can be used instead of triclosan:

  • grapefruit seed extract
  • tea tree oil
  • pine oil

Resources:

1) Fact Sheet by Beyond Pesticides
The Ubiquitous Triclosan: A common antibacterial agent exposed

2) The Environmental Working Group
Triclosan Fact Sheet and more Triclosan Resources

 
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