The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has accelerated its review of the use of triclosan and triclocarban—two pesticides used in antibacterial products—due to health concerns and questions of their long-term efficacy and prudence for killing germs. Canada has already declared triclosan an environmental toxin and its use will be banned there.
FDA microbiologist Colleen Rogers, PhD explains:
“New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits.”
History of Triclosan
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of triclosan (in liquids) and triclocarbon (in bar soaps) as pesticides in the 1970s; their initial application for personal use was as a surgical scrub.
Since then, soap manufacturers have jumped on the germ-paranoia bandwagon and added them—primarily triclosan—to numerous personal and home care products: soaps, anti-perspirants, toothpaste, household cleaners, carpets, toys, etc.
Harmful to The Human Body
Due to studies showing triclosan is a hormone disruptor and causes unnecessary and potentially harmful bacterial resistance, the agency is advancing its normal review of the chemical by five years.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a rule for companies who use these chemicals in their products to prove that they work better and are safer than a product without them.
According to the FDA, there is currently no conclusive evidence that antibacterial soaps are any more effective at cleaning and disinfecting than regular soap and water. The potential costs to manufacturers are huge if and when the proposal is enacted.
Exposure to Normal Levels of Germs is Good
Studies have shown a relationship between the lack of bacteria in a home and the development of eczema, asthma, and allergies in children, suggesting that people grow up and stay healthier if exposed to normal levels of germs—called the “hygiene hypothesis”.
We get sicker with certain conditions because our immune systems aren’t exercised—we’re not exposed to the germs, which would allow our bodies to build a fighting response.
So not only do we not build up immunity to regular, everyday germs, but the antibiotic effect causes the germs we do come into contact with to adapt, causing different—and more potent—strains of bacteria. Like any living organism, a bacterium’s first order of business is to survive—and it is exceptionally good at doing so.
Additionally, when antibacterial soap comes into contact with chlorinated water (which is found in most of the U.S.’ municipal water supplies), it can produce toxic levels of chloroform—a known carcinogen.
Kudos to Johnson & Johnson who has already announced it will remove triclosan and several other potentially dangerous chemicals from all of its products by 2015.
There’s no need to wait for the government or corporations to take out the antibacterials; a list of products that contain triclosan has been published by the non-profit group Beyond Pesticides whose mission is “protecting public health and the environment to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides”.