Jordan Glass
One of the most common chemicals in anti-bacterial products is a hormone disruptor called triclosan. However, while Americans had been tested for triclosan in their bodies, until recently it was unclear how common it is in Canadian adults.
With that in mind, environmental advocacy group Environmental Defence commissioned a team to write a report on the subject, to be led by Master of social and political thought Maggie MacDonald. She compiled a team of volunteers that included a midwife, a chef, a journalist, an environmental scientist, two musicians, a filmmaker, and a political strategist.
When the results came back, what MacDonald found was that all by one had triclosan in their bodies. The full results have been published in a report entitled, “The trouble with triclosan”, which contains the only publicly available data on triclosan levels in Canadian adults.
With triclosan appearing in seven of eight volunteers, it is clear that its use in consumer products has become too widespread. The average about of triclosan found in the volunteers was found to be above the level at which triclosan is toxic to marine organisms, including certain species of algae, crustaceans and fish; an important piece of information as much of the triclosan in homes and bodies will go down the drain, into rivers and lakes, affecting the water people depend on for life.


Environmental Defence has been lobbying against this hormone disrupting chemical since the publication of “Slow death by rubber duck”, authored by Executive Director Dr. Rick Smith.
For his part, Dr. Smith used a set of common personal care and cleaning products containing triclosan for two days. His own triclosan levels shot up from 2.47 nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL) to 7180 ng/mL. To put this in perspective, triclosan is harmful to algae and certain species of frogs at levels below Dr. Smith’s starting point.
The proliferation of triclosan in consumer products has resulted in the contamination of waterways, and may contribute to the rise of anti-bacterial resistance.
Thankfully, a process is underway that may protect Canadians and the environment from continued exposure to this toxic chemical. On March 30, Health Canada and Environment Canada published a draft assessment of triclosan. It concluded that the chemical can harm the environment. A voluntary ban has now been recommended. However, Environmental Defence; joined by the Canadian Medical Association, has called for a mandatory ban.
For the time being, perhaps it would be best if consumers avoided triclosan. But only time will tell if the federal government will chose to ban the use of triclosan in household products; protecting the health of Canadians, as well as the health of fish, wildlife and the environment, from continued exposure to this toxic chemical.