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As the cold weather approaches, parents do what they can to make sure the flu bugs don’t come home from school with their kids. Antibacterial hand sanitizers have become a go-to solution for many parents, but some may be doing more harm than good.
Harmful chemicals like triclosan are found in some of the most widely used hand sanitizers, putting our children and the environment at risk. Over the last two decades, consumers have become increasingly concerned about exposure to germs and bacteria from food sources, schools and other public spaces. As a result, soaps and personal care products marketed as “antibacterial” have gained a lot of popularity. Triclosan, an antimicrobial substance that was manufactured to be used in medical facilities, became the most widely added agent in “antibacterial” consumer products like soaps, body washes and toothpaste.
For many years, environmental advocates like Environmental Defence, and health professionals – including the Canadian Medical Association, have called for a ban on the use of triclosan due to laboratory studies linking triclosan to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or so called “superbugs.” Triclosan can also interfere with human hormones, which raises concerns about the impact that daily exposure may be having on human health.
Triclosan is also harmful to the environment: it has been found to alter the development of frogs and to produce deformities in fathead minnows (a common type of freshwater fish). In fact, a scientific assessment by Environment and Climate Change Canada in 2012 found triclosan toxic to the environment. However, the federal government has not yet taken steps to formally ban it, and the chemical remains in wide use in Canadian products.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month announced a ban on more than a dozen antibacterial substances that are commonly added to soaps including the hormone-disrupting chemicals triclosan and triclocarban. The FDA’s decision to ban triclosan from hand and body wash products will protect American consumers and the environment from further exposure. This decision followed companies’ failure to provide data proving that triclosan is safe and effective as an added agent in soaps, while scientific evidence on triclosan’s harmful effects continues to mount. Manufacturers now have one year to reformulate or take soaps containing triclosan and 18 other substances off U.S. store shelves.
But Canada has yet to follow suit, leaving Canadians exposed to the hormone-disrupting and environmentally damaging chemical. As we continue to advocate for a ban on triclosan in Canada, here are some tips to help you and your family avoid triclosan and other problematic antibacterial chemicals: