Are we cleaning up with a poison?

Antibacterial products are a booming market. Antibacterials are found in soaps, shampoos, household cleaners,  and many other products. People pay more for antibacterial products. Yet, antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap at preventing infection.  A 2005 Food & Drug Administration panel found in an 11 to 1 vote that antibacterial soap products have shown no evidence of preventing infections more effectively than hand washing with regular soap.  Other research has confirmed the FDA’s findings.

Triclosan or its close chemical cousin triclocarban are the chemicals commonly used to give a product antibacterial properties.  Trichlosan is a chlorinated antimicrobial and antifungal pesticide.  It is found in at least 60% of US streams and rivers.  According to the United States Geological Survey (“USGS”), triclosan is one of the most detected chemicals in surface waters in the United States.  And it disrupts the aquatic environment.  A study found triclosan harmful to the development of frogs, disrupting the transition from tadpole to frog.  People assume that the antibacterial products they wash down the drain are treated by the wastewater treatment plant.  Unfortunately, our wastewater treatment plants are having a difficult time handling the heavy triclosan loads because triclosan impacts the beneficial bacteria needed for the water treatment process. 

And what are we doing to ourselves?  Triclosan and its degradation products (the chemicals that it breaks down into) bioaccumulate in humans.  A Swedish study found triclosan in human breast milk in 3 out of 5 women. 

Triclosan has been shown to react with chlorine, the most common disinfectant in our municipal water supply systems, to form chlorofom, a potential carcinogen.  Virginia Polytechnic Institute scientists found that antibacterial soaps could result in an exposure to chloroform 15 to 40 percent above the EPA’s safe limit for tap water as compared with regular soaps. Whether this can occur in the home environment is unknown.

So, if antibacterial soaps aren’t any more effective than conventional soap, and antibacterial products may impact our environment and health, then why are we using them?

What should you do?  Steer clear of triclosan.  Washing hands with warm water & soap without anti-bacterial products is just as effect in preventing infection.  Read labels carefully to avoid triclosan.

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