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EPA Needs Broader Approach on Antimicrobials

(Beyond Pesticides, June 30, 2010) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval process for thousands of antimicrobial products is woefully inadequate, according Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite a growing body of scientific evidence about the side-effects of these products, EPA rubberstamps registrations without duly considering an array of potential public health and environmental impacts.

Antimicrobials are now a billion dollar business with more than 5,000 such products currently registered with EPA. Initially designed for hospitals and clinics, antimicrobial pesticides are today found in products ranging from household cleaners to mattresses and bedding, cosmetics, toys, toothpaste and even chopsticks. Antibacterial products are being marketed to the health conscious without firm evidence of real benefits and amid growing concern about downstream consequences. One prime example of this is the antibacterial pesticide triclosan that is formulated into hundreds of personal care products, toys and textiles. Studies show that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor, accumulates in human fatty tissue and can influence the onset of bacterial resistance.

Beyond Pesticides, Food and Water Watch and several other groups petitioned FDA in 2009 and EPA in January 2010, calling for the ban of triclosan citing the possibility of bacterial resistance to antibacterial substances and antibiotics, along with other human and environmental health concerns including endocrine disruption and water contamination. EPA, which shares regulatory jurisdiction over triclosan, has no plans to review triclosan until 2013. FDA, prompted by this petition, which was then echoed by Rep. Markey’s (D-MA) letters of concern, the agency responded, “existing data raise valid concerns about the [health] effects of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients,” and announced plans to address the use of triclosan in cosmetics or other products.

PEER submitted comments in response to EPA’s proposed efficacy test guidelines for antimicrobial pesticide products. In its comments, PEER faults the efficacy test guidelines that EPA proposed in January as being, in essence, voluntary. More importantly, the EPA is statutorily mandated to consider environmental and human health risks when regulating these products, and yet its current approach is exceedingly narrow and overlooks many of these concerns, including that:

• The most prevalent antibacterial chemical used in consumer products (triclosan) is a likely endocrine disruptor that interferes with thyroid function. Other studies point to a correlation between overuse of these products and increased rates of allergies, asthma, and eczema;
• Growing evidence that continued overuse of antimicrobial products will create strains of bacteria, known as “superbugs,” that are immune to the effects of therapeutic antibiotics, consequently denying doctors essential tools to treat the sick, elderly and other vulnerable populations; and
• Ample data showing that antimicrobial chemicals are often washed down the drain and end up in our rivers, lakes, and streams, proving toxic to fish and other aquatic plants and wildlife.

In 2008, EPA itself conceded that antimicrobial pesticides in wide use are not adequately tested for their effects on the environment and on human health and proposed a series of new data requirements from manufacturers, but the agency never finalized these rules. “EPA now only asks whether these products ‘kill germs’ but myopically ignores what happens later,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist and attorney formerly with EPA. “Incredibly, EPA does not even require manufacturers to submit definitive data about the environmental fate and human health effects of their own products.”

PEER also urges EPA to limit the use of currently registered antimicrobial pesticides to clinical settings and to decline to approve any pending or future registrations for general consumer use unless and until data that demonstrate appreciable health benefits to consumers is submitted and post-use effects are adequately considered.

“Overuse of antimicrobials may unleash adverse effects which we may not be able to counteract,” said PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “EPA is supposed to protect the environment and that is all we are requesting them to do.”

Since the 2004 publication of “The Ubiquitous Triclosan,” Beyond Pesticides has been exposing the dangers of this toxic chemical. Now, along with Food and Water Watch and over 80 environmental and public health groups, Beyond Pesticides is leading a national grassroots movement calling for the ban of triclosan from consumer products. Beyond Pesticides is calling on manufacturers, retailers, school districts, local businesses and communities to wash their hands of triclosan and protect our nation’s waters and public health from this toxic pesticide. To learn more about this grassroots campaign and the join the movement, visit our triclosan homepage.

TAKE ACTION: Join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today. Avoid products containing triclosan, and encourage your local schools, government agencies, and local businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free. Urge your municipality, institution or company to adopt the model resolution which commits to not procuring or using products containing triclosan.


2 Responses to “EPA Needs Broader Approach on Antimicrobials”

  1. 1
    csprimadonna Says:

    I become ill whenever the other people at work in the office use their scented (BBB? or whatever) hand sanitizers which they apply constantly. I have had miganes rashes edema and disorientation and finally breathing probs with facial swelling when they moved me to my own office downstairs.
    The office has an indoor pond which I believe they are treating with bleaches and antifungal agents and the fumes seep everywhere. People c’o HA and other women in other offices are being bothered by the perfumes etc as well.I have to wear a mask several days each week. No one will do anything. Who can I report these issues to?
    Thank You.

  2. 2
    Donald Urquhart Says:

    Anti-microbial products like triclosan have multiple long term effects on humanity in addition to the ones you’ve outlined here. First off, most people don’t use anti-microbials correctly. They don’t wash for the right length of time, or they don’t rinse well enough, or they don’t follow the instructions given. Furthermore, people believe that because they’re using antimicrobial products, they don’t have to clean their homes or toys as well as they used to. These two problems are part of what gives rise to superbugs. Furthermore, these antimicrobial products have become an integral part of North American culture, causing people to buy and use them without really understanding them in order to be “cleaner”. In essence, it’s a prime example of magical thinking.

    Donald from Hypotonia

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