What do the anti-fungal chemical triclosan and your morning routine have in common? You probably use several personal care products containing triclosan before you step out the door on your way to work.

Many Canadians assume that an item purchased in Canada for personal use is free from toxic chemicals. This is, unfortunately, far from true. There are some serious health concerns about excessive exposure to triclosan yet it is used in over 1,600 consumer products in Canada, including toothpaste, soaps, anti-bacterial hand washes. Given the widespread use of triclosan, it is not surprising that it is washes down the drain to be discharged via sewage treatment plants into our lakes and rivers where it poses a toxic threat to a variety of aquatic animals including fish, amphibians and even algae.

This is an all too familiar story: a chemical used in consumer products is later found to be causing harm. A few years ago Ecojustice was rallying against the use of the toxic flame retardants, PBDEs, used in furniture and electronics and everywhere people were concerned about the plastic additive BPA.

Why does this keep happening? Because our federal government does NOT regulate chemicals in a precautionary manner. Instead, the Canadian government takes a risk based approach that requires scientific evidence of harm occurring to human health or the environment in Canada due to the use of a chemical before a chemical even gets the attention of the federal government for consideration of regulatory steps. It isn’t even enough in the federal government’s view for a chemical to be found in our bodies, or our drinking water sources, for the federal government to take action.

The problem is by the time harm is documented it is too late, and like with triclosan and other chemicals before triclosan, it is found in everything from human breast milk to wild animals. The need for evidence of harm is further aggravated by recent federal government cut backs to the very scientists who monitor the environment for toxic chemicals.

When federal action is finally taken, it is usually voluntary and rarely involves a complete ban or even regulatory measures. In the case of triclosan, the federal government is proposing only voluntary measures to reduce the use of triclosan.

Ecojustice, like in the past, is calling on the federal government to get tough on triclosan and regulate it out of the 1,600 products in Canada. We submitted comments to the federal government, which you can read here. We are also calling for a precautionary approach to chemicals management so this story can stop repeating itself.