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Common toothpaste additive triclosan to be deemed toxic to environment

by Sarah SchmidtEdmonton Journal
March 27th, 2012

The federal government is set to declare a bacteria killer found in many toothpastes, mouthwashes and anti-bacterial soaps as toxic to the environment, a move which could see the use of the chemical curtailed sharply, Postmedia News has learned.

Health Canada has been probing the effects of triclosan on the body's endocrine system and whether the antibacterial agent contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance. Environment Canada has been studying the effect of the widely used chemical on the environment.

The government's draft risk assessment is now complete and it says triclosan is toxic to the environment but there's not enough evidence to say it's hazardous to human health. The formal proposal to list the chemical as toxic to the environment will be published Friday.

A toxic designation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act triggers a process to find ways to curtail a chemical's use, including a possible ban in a range of personal-care products.

Canada's proposed toxic designation comes as other regulators wrestle with what to do with triclosan.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration already has said existing data raise "valid concerns" about the possible health effects of repetitive daily exposure to triclosan and is expected is unveil its own risk assessment next winter. Currently, the American regulator's position is triclosan "is not known to be hazardous to humans" but "animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation" and that it warrants further review.

The Canadian government reviewed the safety of triclosan under the government's Chemicals Management Plan (CMP).

The plan, first announced in 2006 with a startup budget of $300 million, initially identified 200 "high-priority" chemicals to undergo safety assessments over five years. When chemicals are deemed to be toxic to human health or the environment under this program, the government then outlines risk-management steps to be taken to protect people or the environment.

During the first phase of the plan, the federal government banned bisphenol A in baby bottles an international first that began with listing the hormone-disrupting chemical as toxic to human health. Major companies have since announced they are phasing out the use of BPA in canned foods.

The Canadian Medical Association has been calling for a ban on the household use of triclosan since 2009, when the organization raised serious concerns about the potential for increased bacterial resistance and argued the benefits are minimal compared to regular washing with soap.

Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence and co-author of the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects our Health, said he wasn't aware of the government's decision on what he calls "modern-day snake oil."

But "like the Canadian Medical Association, we've been concerned about the environmental and human health impacts of triclosan for a while, so we would very much welcome some regulatory action by the Canadian government," Smith said Monday.

Smith, who also said "there's evidence that triclosan is a thyroid toxin," added there's "now a mountain of scientific evidence that triclosan is doing nasty things to aquatic organisms. Because so much of it is being used in our kitchens and bathrooms, it's going down the drain and winding up in lakes and rivers at increasing levels."

Darren Praznik, president of the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, said it would be premature to comment on the government decision until "we actually know what it says," but he said his group is "very supportive" of the Chemicals Management Plan.

"What we like about it, generally speaking, is at the end of the day, it really is about the application of sound science and risk assessment to substances. And I think it also adds another level of safety, rather than just product reviews but also substance reviews," said Praznik.

The CMP reviewed another a funding boost last fall when Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Environment Minister Peter Kent announced the program's renewal with more than $500 million over five years.

At the time, the government said it would be looking at phthalates, flame retardants, boron, selenium, cobalt and other chemicals in the second phase, as well as finalizing its risk assessment of triclosan.

Smith and co-author Bruce Lourie took aim at triclosan for their book, published in 2009.

Smith, who banished triclosan from his home years ago after reading studies identifying the antibacterial agent as a possible endocrine disrupter, saw the levels rise in his body by 2,900 times after using, over a two-day period, brand-name deodorant, toothpaste, anti-bacterial soap and shaving cream containing triclosan.