Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Antibacterial Soaps, Triclosan, and You

Antibacterial Soaps, Triclosan, and You
April 29th, 2010

In this disease-phobic world, we’re taught to wash our hands at every turn, to take germ-killing antibiotics at the first sign of sniffles, and to use antibacterial detergents to kill any bugs that might lurk on surfaces or clothes. But ironically, in our energetic quest to destroy all germs, we use chemicals and drugs that might be destroying the very health we seek to preserve. For instance, the FDA recently admitted that it “should” reevaluate the safety of triclosan, an antibacterial chemical commonly found in a dizzying array of household items. Products containing triclosan include liquid soaps, hand sanitizers, dishwashing liquids, shaving gels, toothpastes, deodorants, cutting boards, mattresses, toilets, blankets, credit cards, air filters, countertops, earplugs, swimming pool liners, socks, workout clothes, toys, and so on and so on. In fact, triclosan is in so many products that it’s simultaneously regulated by three agencies: the EPA
for its application as a pesticide (yes, you read that correctly), the FDA for its use in personal care products and medical devices, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

You’ve got to suspect bad news associated with any substance that’s simultaneously a pesticide and a component in toothpaste. In fact, the chemical structure of triclosan resembles that of PCBs, which are among the most toxic of all substances. Officially, it’s a chlorophenol — a substance comprised of chlorine and phenol — and neither part of that equation inspires confidence. Tests have shown that when exposed to chlorinated tap water (either externally or internally if you swallowed some toothpaste, for example), triclosan forms chloroform gas, a probable human carcinogen, as well as dioxins, which are extremely toxic endocrine disrupters that bio-accumulate in human tissue. That’ll make you think twice about the hygienic benefits of washing your hands with Softsoap, or brushing your teeth with Colgate Total (both products contain triclosan) before bed.

Triclosan originally was developed as a surgical scrub for medical professionals. Now, in addition to its application in pesticides and fungicides, it’s used to eliminate odors and sanitizer products. Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts wants the FDA to ban triclosan. He says, “The proliferation of triclosan in everyday consumer products is so enormous, it is literally in almost every type of product — most soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothes and toys. It’s in our drinking water, it’s in our rivers, and as a result, it’s in our bodies. . . .It clearly is something that creates a danger.” Studies have found triclosan present in the urine of 75 percent of the population, in breast milk, and in 58 percent of US waterways.

The problem with triclosan, experts contend, is that it’s potentially a hormone disrupter. Research shows that it interferes with normal brain development as well as reproductive system development and function. A 2006 study found that even at low doses, triclosan disrupted thyroid function in bullfrogs, while another study in 2009 concluded that triclosan exposure significantly reduces thyroid hormone concentrations in rats.

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