Antibacterial chemicals need to be banned in consumer products, new study says

antibacterial soap
CC BY 2.0 Andy Melton

A new report from the Canadian Environmental Law Association wants two antibacterial chemicals to be banned completely from the market. Triclosan and triclocarban are common additions to liquid hand soaps and a wide range of skin care products and are supposed to perform antibacterial functions, but CELA’s study in the Great Lakes region has shown that they pose serious risks to the environment and to human health.

Using a comprehensive assessment tool called ‘GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals,’ the researchers measured triclosan and triclocarban against 18 criteria for human health and the environment, such as whether there is bioaccumulation in nature, endocrine disruption in humans, risk of reproductive toxicity, and eye or skin irritation. They came up with a final score for each. Triclosan is a Benchmark 1 chemical – “Avoid: Chemical of High Concern.” Triclocarban is Benchmark 2 – “A chemical with very high aquatic toxicity.”

There are approximately 1,600 products for sale on Canadian markets that contain these antibacterial chemicals, and they’re not even that effective. The US Centers for Disease Control, the Canadian Public Health Agency, and the FDA have all stated that regular soap and water do just as good a job at cleaning hands, and don’t have the same negative environmental impact. In addition, the use of antibacterial products increases microbial resistance and makes it harder to kill germs when we actually really need to.

antibacterial chemicals© Jason Drees via CELA

Triclosan and triclocarban are terrifyingly persistent and ubiquitous. Because these chemicals are added to so many products, they are now found everywhere. Ninety-five percent of triclosan and the vast majority of triclocarban get flushed down the drain, ultimately ending up in waterways, where, according to study commissioner Fe de Leon, they “generate dioxins and other hazardous substances in water.”

In the Great Lakes basin, which receives much of the waste effluent of 40 million surrounding residents, triclosan has been detected in 90 percent of surface water samples and found in many fish. And, inevitably, what we put into our water will eventually make its way back to us. Triclosan has been found in 97 percent of breast milk samples.

CELA is calling on the Canadian and US governments to come up with a comprehensive plan for phasing out these antibacterial chemicals, but demand has to come from consumers, too. Please stop buying these products, and read the ingredients to make sure items don’t contain triclosan or triclocarban. Be aware that these chemicals can also be found in items such as kitchen cutting boards, yoga mats, clothing, carpet, paint, fabric softeners, toys, pacifiers, textiles, and paper.

Antibacterial chemicals need to be banned in consumer products, new study says
Triclosan and triclocarban are found in many odour- and germ-killing soaps, as well as other household products, but they are highly toxic to both humans and the environment.

Related Content on