While health agencies continue to review the safety of the chemical in anti-bacterial soap, the state of Minnesota has decided to ban the germ-killer triclosan.
The new law will not take effect until 2017, but it's a first step in North America amidst growing concern about the potential hazards of the chemical, which is added to soap, body washes and even toothpaste. Triclosan has been widely use in consumer products for decades, but some studies have suggested that it may disrupt hormones, and there are concerns that its use may contribute to antiobiotic-resistent bacteria. It has also been used as a pesticide, and it is destructive to the environment, particularly marine life.
The Canadian Medical Association, Environmental Defence and other groups have been calling for a ban on antibacterial products for years.
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States announced public hearings into the use of the chemical in December. Health Canada is awaiting the outcome of the FDA review, before deciding further action at this point. Triclosan is also being reviewed under the Canada's chemical management plan, which considers how to reduce the release of hazardous substances into the environment.
According to Health Canada, there are currently about 1,600 cosmetics and personal care products containing triclosan sold in Canada. While Health Canada acknowledges the environmental hazard, the department assessment states that in the dose contained in toothpaste and soaps, the chemical is safe for human use. But while manufacturers are limited in the amounts they may add to products, the David Suzuki Foundation points out since it is so common across multiple product lines, the amount that the average Canadian may be exposed to could add up over time. According to the Foundation, scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found triclosan in the urine of 75 per cent of the 2,500 subjects aged six and older that were tested for a study.
Minnesota is the first state to ban the use of triclosan. Senator John Marty, who was one of the lead sponsors for the bill, predicted that other states would follow, while also suggesting that many companies would likely phase out their use of the chemical over the next few years. (Currently, Procter & Gamble sells triclosan-free toothpaste, for instance.)
The best reason to limit triclosan: Canadians may be dousing themselves with a potentially hazardous chemical (and a pesticide) when a squirt of tried-and-true soap and water and some careful scrubbing will get the job done.