Antibacterial soap: Poses environmental health risks, doesn’t clean any better

To protect yourself from harmful germs wash your hands, for at least 20 seconds, with plain old soap and water.

That simple advice might be the take-away message from last week’s Food and Water Watch-sponsored congressional briefing on triclosan, an antibacterial agent found in hundreds of antibacterial soaps and other personal products from toothpaste to cosmetics to deodorant.

Food and Water Watch wants the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to ban triclosan, citing its ubiquity in the human body and discharge into the environment.   In 2008, CDC data identified triclosan in the urine of 75 percent of the population, of concern because animal studies have found triclosan can act as an endocrine disruptor.   Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with hormone functions, and can result in adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological or immune effects. When triclosan breaks down, it can turn into dioxins, which are known carcinogens. The health risks from triclosan need to be better characterized for humans, although there likely exists enough evidence for federal agencies to consider banning it from consumer products.

triclosan_022011_1087According to some environmental and health experts, the use of antibacterial soaps containing triclosan is overkill in most non-medical uses, and there may be negative consequences as the compound makes its way through our bodies and into the environment.

“Consumers have an appetite for antibacterial soap regardless of whether or not there is an indication for it,” said Dr. Larry Weiss, the chief technology officer at natural soap company CleanWell, and a physician and expert on natural chemistry and epidemiology.  “We need to think more about when it makes sense to use an antimicrobial and when it doesn’t.” Read More >