GLOBE-Net, April 9, 2012 - Grade 12 students
Rachel Brown and Katie Van der Sloot were not looking to create a
furor over a common chemical found in toothpaste, mouthwash and
But when the inquiring young Medicine Hat, Alberta high school
students noticed a flood of anti-bacterial soap in their community
following the 2009 H1N1 scare, they probed deeper. They applied
scientific process to measure the impact of the anti-bacterial
products on the environment.
Their award-winning science project inadvertently provided added
public clout to Health Canada's ongoing research into the effects
of the chemical triclosan on the human body and Environment
Canada's study on its effect on the environment. Triclosan is a
microbe-fighting ingredient that, among other uses, fights
And many of the products, such as mouthwash and toothpaste, are
flushed down the sink into the local water system. And that's where
the two young scientists discovered the problem.
By analyzing their water, the two students discovered
triclosan-resistant bacteria. A 2006 study from the Santa Clara Basin Watershed
Management Initiative reports that "...triclosan is acutely and
chronically toxic to aquatic organisms." Algae have proved to be
the most sensitive organisms, but fish and invertebrates also
experience adverse impacts following acute or chronic exposures to
low levels of triclosan.
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.
Preliminary research findings released by Health Canada and
Environment Canada in late March concluded that the concentration
of triclosan found in these products aren't enough to be harmful to
humans - but are harmful to the environment.
The federal government has now asked companies to voluntarily
remove triclosan from some personal-care products and to find a
substitute ingredient. A Health Canada news release says after further study, "risk
management actions" may be proposed under Canada's Chemical Action
Triclosan is the latest chemical to come under the microscope of
Canada's Chemical Management Plan (CMP). If placed on
the List of Toxic Substances it will be another in
a growing inventory of toxic chemicals removed from store shelves
and the Canadian environment.
In a highly publicized 2010 decision, the government banned bisphenol A - a chemical used to make plastic
in baby and water bottles. The chemical has been linked to heart
disease, certain cancers and other health problems.
These high profile bans are examples of the scientific-based
work that is being conducted by scientists and researchers at the
Canadian government agency.
On December 8, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with
the Ministers of the Environment and Health, unveiled Canada's new
$300 million Chemicals Management Plan. Its objective was to bring
all existing federal programs together into a single science-based
strategy and provide protection against hazardous chemicals.
The agency then compiled a list of 23,000 existing chemicals
used in commerce to manufacture hundreds of goods, from medicines
to computers, fabrics and fuels. Each required analysis.
Of that, 4,300 needed further attention and approximately 200 of
them were identified as high priorities for action. These 200 high
priority chemicals were divided into 12 batches of 10 to 20
chemicals each and were targeted for screening assessments. That screening and
assessment process has been underway since 2006.
Since that time, the CMP has been slowly but steadily
eliminating toxic substances from the Canadian environment. The CMP
is using the mandatory information gathering provisions of section
71 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA, 1999)
to gather information deemed required for improved
And while the high profile chemicals such as triclosan and
bisphenol A have made headlines, it's the other work of the agency
that is establishing its reputation as a science-based and reliable
Some of the other chemicals that have been added to the List of
Toxic Substances include the lesser known thiourea, 1, 3-butadiene and oxirane.
The CMP's work, however, has not been without its
In December, 2011, the Commissioner on Environment and
Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan, stated in his 2011 report
that enforcement of key regulations is not happening. The
Commissioner blames a lack of training and key information
The Canadian Environmental Law Association says
it's clear "there should be a comprehensive and robust compliance
and enforcement regime in place to control this small number of
high priority toxic substances to ensure protection of human health
and the environment."
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association has called
for an alignment of Canadian policies and regulations with the US
and more time for manufacturers to source materials if substances
What few people dispute, however, is the amount of work and the
quality of scientific analysis that is underway at the federal
department. From a list of mostly unknown chemicals, the CMP is
slowly building an inventory of banned substances based on solid
science and community and market consultation.
In the process, it is protecting Canadians from immediate or
potential exposure, protecting their health and the environment we
Rachel Brown and Katie Van der Sloot would be proud.
Further scientific studies on triclosan can be found here and here
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