Coastal and Freshwater news

Environmental toxicologist Dr Louis Tremblay
21 June 2017

Call to ban toxic chemicals in New Zealand products

A group of 200 scientists and medical professionals have called on the international community to further restrict the use of two chemicals in the US- triclosan and triclocarban. Research suggests these chemicals have a number of adverse health and environmental impacts. They are still widely present in New Zealand products.

Last year in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned these chemicals in hand and body soaps. Cawthron environmental toxicologist Dr Louis Tremblay advocates for New Zealand to follow suit, and ban the unnecessary use of these chemicals in personal care products.

"Triclosan is a wide-spectrum antimicrobial agent used in consumer products including liquid soaps, toothpaste, and plastic children’s toys.

"It lasts a long time in the environment and can lead to detrimental effects on aquatic organisms. These chemicals bioaccumulate in aquatic plants and animals, with traces present in human blood and breast milk.

"Research suggests these chemicals can exacerbate allergies, affect reproduction and development, and overuse might contribute to microbial resistance," said Dr Tremblay.

Soaps containing triclosan have been shown to be no more effective at controlling the spread of diseases in the home than soaps without triclosan.

In the Florence Statement released yesterday, the scientists and medical professionals recommend we:

  1. Avoid the use of triclosan, triclocarban, and other antimicrobial chemicals except where they provide an evidence-based health benefit (e.g., physician-prescribed toothpaste for treating gum disease) and there is adequate evidence demonstrating they are safe.
  2. Where antimicrobials are necessary, use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems.
  3. Label all products containing triclosan, triclocarban, and other antimicrobials, even in cases where no health claims are made.
  4. Evaluate the safety of antimicrobials and their transformation products throughout the entire product life cycle, including manufacture, long-term use, disposal, and environmental release.

Dr Tremblay says the adverse effects of these chemicals is mainly due to their overuse that can result in accumulation in the receiving environment. In an environment of increasing number of microbes resistant to common antibiotics, chemicals like triclosan can play a role to keep us safe when used under the right conditions and purposes.

"Triclosan is active to a range of microbes, so it’s a good weapon for use in medical and veterinarian settings, where there are potentially high concentrations of pathogens. Under these circumstances, it makes sense to use this type of chemicals to reduce the spread of disease.

"We should keep in mind that chemicals play an important role in maintaining our quality of life. However, we must use them in ways that maximise their intended benefits while minimising the risk to ourselves and our unique ecosystems.

"More research is needed in New Zealand to better characterise the impacts of so-called emerging contaminants like triclosan and others found in commonly used products," said Dr Tremblay.

Cawthron Institute has a multi-disciplinary ecotoxicology team of biologists, ecologists and chemists who analyse toxic substances present in groundwater, animals, sediment, and wastewater. They can also identify ecological risks for plants, invertebrates, and biological communities exposed to toxins.