More than half measures: the case for banning Triclosan

The government’s current plan for triclosan, which should be finalized in 2020, will require anyone using over 100kg of triclosan annually to create and implement a plan to reduce usage by 30% in 3 years. We believe this isn't enough.

Ottawa Riverkeeper and other concerned groups met the federal government in Ottawa Jan. 19 to discuss the newly proposed pollution prevention plan for triclosan. Triclosan is a chemical used as an antimicrobial agent in a wide variety of common household consumer products in Canada, such as antibacterial soaps, skin cleansers, toothpaste, and general purpose cleaners.

In 2016, the government added triclosan to its list of toxic substances, with a specific focus on the harm it causes to aquatic environments. Since then, the government has developed a plan to address the problem. The government’s plan, which should be finalized in 2020, will require anyone using over 100kg of triclosan annually to create and implement a plan to reduce usage by 30% in 3 years. That reduced rate can be used indefinitely from that point going forward. The government believes that a reduction of 30% will effectively protect aquatic environments from harm caused by triclosan.

In our opinion, this is a weak response given the numerous scientific studies pointing to significant health and environmental effects of triclosan beyond what was considered by the government.  Triclosan has no proven health benefits, and was the subject of a statement by 200 scientists and medical professionals outlining its unfortunate contribution to microbial resistance, endocrine disrupting properties, and debilitating environmental effects.

Given these findings it is obvious to us at Ottawa Riverkeeper that there is no place for triclosan in any quantity in Canada, and a complete ban is in order.  Other countries have recognized this, with more substantial responses seen by the European Union and the United States, where producers could not prove that triclosan killed germs better than soap and hot water.

Additionally, there are concerns over the chemicals such as methyl-triclosan that are left behind as triclosan breaks down in our waterways, chemicals which are thought to be significantly more persistent and harmful than triclosan itself, but are not addressed by the government’s plan. Under the current proposed timeline, no reductions would be mandatory until 2023, eleven years after triclosan was first assessed by the government as a harmful substance, an unacceptable amount of time for triclosan to continue harming our Canadian waterways.

Triclosan exemplifies a bigger problem with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA); it demonstrates how CEPA lacks teeth and needs to be reformed. We’re not the only ones who feel this way. In June, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development made 87 recommendations to improve the Act. We stand behind many of these ground-breaking recommendations. As well, a coalition of environmental and health groups have submitted their own 11 “high-priority recommendations” towards modernizing the Act.