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Triclosan in Waterways Harmful to Important Microorganisms

(Beyond Pesticides, November 15, 2010) A new study suggests the widespread use of the antimicrobial triclosan may be inhibiting the aquatic bacteria and algae needed for a healthy ecosystem. Triclosan is an antibacterial compound found in a wide variety of household products including soaps, cosmetics, toothpaste, flooring, textiles, and even children’s toys.

According to the study entitled “Triclosan persistence through wastewater treatment plants and its potential toxic effects on river biofilms,” when triclosan finds its way into rivers and streams it can inhibit photosynthesis in algae and kill bacteria. The study examined a group of algae known as diatoms. Through photosynthesis, diatoms produce food as well as oxygen needed for other organisms. Diatoms produce an estimated 80 percent of the oxygen in our atmosphere making them essential to life on earth.

When introduced to the market in 1972, triclosan was confined to hospital and health care settings. Aided by the false public perception that antibacterial products are best to protect and safeguard against potential harmful bacteria, triclosan has since exploded in the marketplace in hundreds of consumer products ranging from antibacterial soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, cosmetics, fabrics, toys, and other household and personal care products. Due to the prevalence of this antibacterial, triclosan can now easily find its way from household products into the ecosystem. When a product such as soap is rinsed down the drain, it ends up at a sewage treatment facility. Such facilities are not designed to eliminate organic compounds such as pharmaceuticals or antibacterials, so these compounds end up in nearby waterbodies. Triclosan concentrations in treated wastewater can range from 0.027 – 2.7 micrograms per liter.

Researchers tested the effects of various triclosan concentrations on naturally-occurring microbial communities gathered from a river in northeast Spain. Bacterial populations were reduced at the lowest tested concentration of 0.5 micrograms per liter. At a concentration of 5 micrograms per liter triclosan was found to be toxic to diatoms, inhibiting photosynthesis.

This study is part of a growing collection of scientific data showing the dangers of triclosan outweigh its benefits. An article in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, entitled “Consumer Antibacterial Soaps: Effective or Just Risky?” (2007), concludes that antibacterial soaps show no health benefits over plain soaps. This follows a recommendation by the FDA Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee on October 20, 2005 in a statement that antibacterial soaps and washes are no more effective than regular soap and water in fighting infections.

Dial Corp was recently hit with a class action suit over claims that its antibacterial soap Dial Complete, which contains triclosan, kills 99.99% of germs. The plaintiff, David Walls, stated in his suit that there are no reliable studies that show Dial Complete lives up to these claims.

Studies have found that triclosan contributes to the increasing rates of bacterial resistance. Triclosan persists in the environment and in human bodies, and has endocrine disrupting properties and causes adverse health problems in humans and wildlife species.

A recent study raises concern that triclosan interferes with human fetal growth and development. Researchers found that triclosan interferes with estrogen metabolism in women and can disrupt a vital enzyme during pregnancy. Data indicates that only a small amount of triclosan can be dangerous to an unborn baby.

Based on these numerous human and environmental health concerns, Beyond Pesticides in partnership with Food and Water Watch and 78 other groups, submitted petitions to both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring that they ban all non-medically prescribed triclosan uses on the basis that those uses violate several federal statutes. FDA recently stated that “existing data raise valid concerns about the [health] effects of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients.” FDA announced that it plans to review data concerning triclosan. EPA maintains that the agency does not currently plan to reevaluate its regulations surrounding the use of triclosan until 2013. [Triclosan is jointly regulated by FDA and EPA.]

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. For more information about triclosan and the campaign, visit our Triclosan Program page.

Source: Environmental Health News


One Response to “Triclosan in Waterways Harmful to Important Microorganisms”

  1. 1
    FCEC Says:

    Along with triclosan, other contaminants have been dumped in our local water bodies. An example of this sort of contamination is off the Palos Verdes Shelf in Southern California, and as a result there are some contaminated fish in the area. To learn more about these contaminated fish or to find more information on how to protect your health check out pvsfish.org.

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