County Asks EPA to Cut Widespread Use of Antibacterial Agents
(Beyond Pesticides, August 14, 2006) Cook County, Illinois' clean water agency said last month that it is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut the widespread use of antibacterial agents, including triclosan and triclocarban. Commonly used in liquid soaps, the chemicals are of "no proven benefit to public health," said Terrence J. O'Brien, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD).
Mr. O’Brien cited recent reports in scientific journals warning about the antimicrobial compounds, which are used in 75 percent of all liquid soaps and 30 percent of bar soaps. Experts hypothesize that the compounds might contribute to the growing problem of germs developing resistance to antibiotic drugs. Additionally, because many of these products, such as soap and toothpaste, are washed down drains, triclosan and triclocarban have been found to frequently contaminate US waterways, often in large quantities.
Numerous studies have found that triclosan promotes the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Triclosan has also been linked to the formation of dioxin and chloroform (See Daily News story), two highly carcinogenic substances. Triclosan is found in hundreds of common everyday products, including nearly half of all commercial soaps. In addition to soaps, triclosan is found in deodorants, toothpastes, cosmetics, fabrics and plastics. Triclosan is used so commonly that is has made its way into the human body –it has been found in the umbilical cord blood of infants and in the breast milk of mothers.
The American Medical Association and Association for Professionals in Infection Control have said there's no evidence that antibacterial soaps prevent infections in homes. Additionally, on October 20, 2005, at a meeting of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee, which advises FDA, the committee voted 11-1 that antibacterial soaps and washes were no more effective than regular soap and water in fighting infections—both work equally as well. Shortly after, Beyond Pesticides, along with 14 other public health and environmental advocacy groups, petitioned FDA to ban triclosan for all non-medical uses. As of yet, the agency has failed to respond to the petition.
A 2006 study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds that after people flush antibacterial products down the drain, about 75 percent of triclocarban and triclosan compounds survive treatment at sewage plants, one study found. Most of that ends up in waterways and sludge spread on agricultural fields, and may end up on produce. Dr. Rolf Halden, Ph.D., lead author of the study, remarked, ”…To protect our health, we mass-produce and use a toxic chemical which the Food and Drug Administration has determined has no scientifically proven benefit. Second, when we try to do the right thing by recycling nutrients contained in biosolids, we end up spreading a known reproductive toxicant on the soil where we grow our food. The study shows just how important it is to consider the full life cycle of the chemicals we manufacture for use in our daily life."
Source: Chicago Sun Times
TAKE ACTION: When used in hospitals and other health care settings, or for persons with weakened immune systems, triclosan and triclocarban represent important health care and sanitary tools. Outside of these settings, the use of these antibacterial ingredients is unnecessary, and the constant exposure to them becomes a health and environmental hazard. The best solution to preventing infections is good old soap and water. Make sure you read all labels when buying soaps and other toiletry products, including cosmetics, to ensure that triclosan and triclocarban are not included. Also be on the lookout for Microban and Irgasan, which are other names for triclosan. Consult our triclosan factsheet for a list of products containing triclosan (some, like Teva sandals and kitchen knives, may surprise you) and for more detailed information on alternatives to these chemicals.