toxic toothbrush | nik harron Toxic toothbrush \ nik harron

SUCCESSFUL Initiatives in Ontario and elsewhere to ban or restrict a variety of toxic chemicals shouldn’t invite complacency. Numerous compounds linked to a wide range of negative health effects remain in use, appearing in thousands of everyday products. Here are five active campaigns targeting toxics in Canada and around the world.

1. Triclosan out of toothpaste
This antibacterial chemical found in hand sanitizers, toothpaste, garbage bags and clothing is linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, can disrupt thyroid function and is toxic to aquatic life.

A coalition of health and environmental groups, led by Beyond Pesticides and Food & Water Watch, is currently working to remove triclosan from the market. 

2. Toxic chemicals out of cosmetics
Almost 80 per cent of personal care products used by Canadians contain at least one toxic substance linked to health and environmental concerns. BHA and BHT, preservatives in makeup and moisturizers, are suspected endocrine disruptors. Coal tar dye – blue pigmentation – has the potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals that are toxic to the brain. Moreover, ingredients such as dibutyl phthalate, parfum and siloxanes are harmful to aquatic organisms and other wildlife.

The David Suzuki Foundation is calling for Canada to strengthen its cosmetic laws and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is making headway with major manufacturers in the US.

3. Lead out of paint
While lead is highly restricted in Canada, many corporations still produce lead-based pigments for colouring paints, plastics and ceramics sold in other countries. Exposure to lead-contaminated water, soil, paint chips or dust can cause lead poisoning. Lead poisoning affects every organ and system in the body including nerves and muscles. Symptoms vary and often don’t appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated, but can include developmental delay and behaviour problems in children. There is no safe threshold for lead exposure.

The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations and supported by over 120 countries, works with manufacturers to stop producing lead-based pigments.

4. Mercury out of mouths
Dental amalgam is currently 50 per cent mercury, which pollutes the environment, endangers our health and damages teeth by removing healthy tooth matter. Mercury poisoning from dental fillings can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, anemia, chest pain, muscle weakness and insomnia.

The Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry promotes mercury-free alternatives to protect the environment, consumers and dental workers from mercury exposure. 

5. EDCs out of everything
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are synthetic chemicals that, when ingested, can mimic or block hormones and disrupt normal bodily functions. Known human endocrine disruptors include diethylstilbestrol (the drug DES), dioxin, PCBs, DDT and BPA. There are many other suspected EDCs, mostly pesticides and plasticizers (such as phthalate esters used in PVCs to increase flexibility), but also additives or contaminants in food and personal care products. Effects include altered reproductive functions, increased incidence of breast cancer and changes in immune function.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme are jointly raising public awareness on EDCs through research and advocacy.

Explore our health content for tips on reducing toxics in your life and ewg.org/skindeep to research chemicals in products you use. 

Elise Marion has a masters in Comparative Literature from Dublin City University and a bachelors degree in English and Classics from McMaster University, and is keenly pursuing a literary career.

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