A government study has found that a common anti-bacterial agent found in everything from toothpaste to toys is harmful to the environment, but safe for humans.

Health Canada and Environment Canada are proposing that industry voluntarily cut the amount of triclosan it uses, particularly in personal-care products that tend to get rinsed away into lakes and rivers.   


The antimicrobial agent triclosan is used in consumer products including liquid soaps, hand sanitizers, cosmetics, laundry soap and pesticides. (Eliana Aponte/Reuters)

Dr. Paul Gully of Health Canada says the study found no evidence of any direct health effects to humans, but Dr. Robert Chenier of Environment Canada said triclosan hurts the environment and bio-diversity.   

The bacteria-killing agent is added to a growing list of everyday consumer products, including liquid soaps, hand sanitizers, cosmetics, laundry soap and pesticides.

Triclosan was originally developed in the early '70s as a surgical handwash, but over the years has been incorporated into more than 1,600 cosmetics and personal care items.  

The government said that triclosan in waste water can interfere with the growth and reproduction of plants and animals in lakes and streams, but that there is no clear link between triclosan and antibacterial resistance, and no evidence that it poses a risk to humans.

The government has set a 60-day public consultation period to gather reaction to the 137-page assessment and accompanying risk management plan.   

The last time Ottawa did a full audit of triclosan in 2000, it found industries had imported 54,000 kilograms that year.

The Canadian Medical Association has called upon the federal government to ban the sale of household antibacterial products due to the risk of bacterial resistance and to recognize that soap and alcohol-based solutions are just as effective in preventing household infection.

With files from CBC News