Arguing that the chemical commonly used to give antibacterial soap its bite "poses imminent threats to human health and the environment," two groups are petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to have triclosan banned.
The Daily Green has consistently recommended against using antibacterial soap (yes, even for parents with young children), primarily because it doesn't achieve its stated purpose (sanitizing your hands) any better than a thorough washing with regular-old soap and hot water ... but it does create conditions that allow for the evolution of antibiotic-resistance among bacteria. More recently, evidence has emerged that tricolsan may be an endocrine-disrupting chemical, messing with our hormones. It's found in our blood, and because we dump so much down the drain with each washing, it even contaminates dolphins, according to one recent study.
Though antibacterial products have saturated the market, there are alternatives to antibacterial soap. Triclosan isn't found only in soaps; it's also used in toothpastes, deodorants, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, facial tissues, antiseptics, fabrics, toys and medical devices.
The petition (pdf) filed by Beyond Pesticides and Food and Water Watch (with support from dozens of other groups, including the Sierra Club, the American Bird Conservancy and the Breast Cancer Fund), argues that tricolsan should not be approved for use in consumer products.
"Numerous scientific studies and reports clearly indicate that in addition to its human health and environmental dangers, triclosan is not effective for many of its intended benefits and may actually be doing consumers more harm than good," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "Even worse, is that current regulations on triclosan haven't been updated since 1994 and much of the science used by the FDA to regulate the pesticide dates back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. The agency's inconsideration of new scientific research on triclosan represents an egregious failure to properly protect the public against this dangerous pesticide."
The petitioners make six basic claims:
- Triclosan doesn't work in consumer products
- Tricolsan's widespread use increases the chances of harmful bacteria becoming resistant to the drug
- Triclosan builds up in the body
- Tricolsan may disrupt human hormones
- Triclosan can react with other chemicals to form dioxin and chloroform, which are known to be toxic
- Triclosan contaminates water, affecting marine wildlife and ecosystems
It's useful to remember that triclosan, like other pesticides, is a poison. It's poisonous to bacteria. We may be far removed from bacteria, way up in the evolutionary branches of life, but the common chemistry of living things means that chemicals that affect one form of life often affect others too.
Why is Triclosan used so widely? People buy it. And marketers sell it. The market's worth is estimated at $1 billion, so someone is pocketing some serious cash.