New Report Reveals the Dangers of Using Antibacterial Products

Do you look for the phrase “kills germs” on products? For some, this popular claim serves as an indicator of strength and effectiveness and the reason to choose one product over another. A recent report shows why “kills germs” on a label may actually be reason enough to leave that product on the shelf.

The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and Clean Production Action (CPA) recently commissioned an analysis of the antibacterial agents triclosan and triclocarban. These chemicals are intentionally added to thousands of products, including household cleaners, cosmetics (including soap, toothpaste, and mouthwash), textiles, and food packaging.  As a result of this widespread use, these compounds have now been detected in breast milkhousehold dustlakes and streamsdolphins and other wildlife, and drinking water. CELA and CPA commissioned the evaluation of the environmental and human health impacts of both triclosan and triclocarban using the Green Screen, a globally-recognized tool used by industry, governments, and health and environmental advocates for assessing and comparing chemical hazards.

Triclosan received the most toxic rating possible: a Benchmark 1 Substance, which means a chemical to be avoided due to the very high risk of aquatic toxicity, persistence in the environment, and skin and eye irritation. The assessment also found that triclosan carries moderate risks for reproductive toxicity, endocrine activity, developmental neurotoxicity, neurotoxicity (a single dose), and human systemic toxicity (repeated dosage).

The findings also revealed that upon exposure to chlorine–the most commonly used disinfectant for treatment of wastewater and drinking water–triclosan transformed into methyl-triclosan, a substance that is highly toxic to aquatic organisms. Once triclosan-laced wastewater is discharged into local waterways it reacts with sunlight to form dioxins, which can produce a spectrum of toxic health effects. CELA reported that over 95% of triclosan is flushed down the drain, with 89.7% surface water samples in the Great Lakes being contaminated by the chemical.

Triclocarban was rated a Benchmark 2 or a very high hazard chemical as a result of acute and chronic toxicity, high risk of persistence in the environment, and a moderate risk for reproductive toxicity, endocrine activity, human systemic toxicity (repeated dosage), and skin and eye irritation. In addition, triclocarban was found to have a higher aquatic toxicity than triclosan, signaling an immediate concern for its presence in products designed to be flushed down drains.  Products flushed down the drain in Michigan ultimately end up our rivers and streams, and the Great Lakes.

The presence of triclosan and triclocarban poses a serious threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem, the organisms which inhabit it, and the millions of people that depend upon it for drinking water. The report recommends that all states and governments in the Great Lakes Basin prohibit the use of these chemicals. Minnesota is leading the way as the first U.S. state to ban triclosan from all retail sales of body and hand soaps, effective January 1, 2017.

The report also urges manufacturers and retailers to eliminate the use of triclosan and triclocarban in their products. This request is hot on the heels of another call for soap makers to clean up their act. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently challenged manufacturers to prove that antibacterial products are more effective than plain soap and water or get rid of triclosan and triclocarban as active ingredients. Until they do, consumers can use the claim “kills germs” as an indicator to leave a product where it stands on the shelf.  Plain soap and water wash away germs just fine.

To read the report, see: Draining Trouble into the Great Lakes

Learn more about the issue:
FDA Finally Moves to Regulate Proliferating Antibacterial Soaps
Triclosan in antibacterial soaps promotes buildup of dangerous staph bacteria in nose, study shows
Triclosan Exposure Levels Increasing in Humans, New Data Shows Potential for Food Contamination

Published on July 17, 2014