Another reason to skip Triclosan – Microbes play a crucial role in human health?

I read a compelling article in the Washington Post discussing the advances in microbial research and human health. The article started with a sentence designed to make you reach for a hand sanitizer – of the average person’s 100 trillion cells, only about 1 in 10 is human. It then went on to talk about the unique microbial ecosystems that help us live and may well explain why one person suffers from any number of diseases and another does not.

The article discusses how our microbial systems – acquired beginning at birth – may help “steer normal development, molding immune sysetms and calibrating fundamental metabolic functions such as energy storage and consumption.” These systems may explain why one person gets cancer and another doesn’t.

Yet, we don’t understand these systems yet. And, our rush to use antibiotics, antibacterials, and heavy cleaning chemicals and even electric Caesarean delivery of babies may be disrupting nature’s balance, leading to a host of disease.

So, I was really struck by that the article just gives one more reason why not to use an unneccessary antibacterial such as Triclosan.

And I was also struck by the suggestive evidence that the use of antibiotics during pregnancy, as children and in our food may be leading to obesity. The research suggest that antibiotics may be killing off the bacteria needed to regulate the hormones which are key players in regulating metabolism, hunger and a sense of fullness.

And, I was also struck by the statement that one finding from the recent research is that babies born through Caesarean sections apparently miss out on acquiring their mothers’ microbiota. This may lead to certain diseases, such as perhaps asthma. This should be fodder for those women fighting for vaginal delivery after a Caesarean, and should at least be considered by those considering elective Caesarean delivery.

But I guess what mostly struck me is that you really can’t monkey around with Mother Nature.

You Can’t Fool Mother Nature – GMO Corn & The Rise of the Superbugs

You really can’t fool Mother Nature.

Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction frequently explore the impact of our tinkering with our world, resulting in devastation and illuminating the folly of men. The currently popular Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just one example.

In our real world, people fear resistant super bacteria – and many have reduced or eliminated the use of triclosan containing antibacterial soaps because they promote such resistant super bacteria and, for household uses, are no more effective than conventional soaps.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are another potential problem. Generally speaking, a genetically modified organism is an organism which has genetic material added to its genome to achieve certain traist or characteristics. I personally try to avoid GMO products. In my garden, I do not buy or plant any GMO seeds. When grocery shopping, I try to steer clear of GMO products.

I do understand that there are arguments to support the use of GMO. But, I think we need to proceed with much more caution. The recent news report that some GMO corn crops are being eaten by a resistant rootworm is a bit, well, troubling.

An Iowa State University researcher’s paper indicates that western corn rootworms in at least four northeast Iowa corn fields have developed a resistance to the natural pesticide in Monsanto’s GMO corn – the a pest that the GMO corn is supposed to thwart.

Monsanto’s GMO corn seed is herbicide-resistant, which means that farmers can blanket their fields in herbicide and kill everything but their food crop plants. Monsanto also developed the GMO corn seed with a gene that produces a crystalline protein called Cry3Bb1 (the natural pesticide referenced previously), which kills the rootworm but is otherwise allegedly harmless. Or so we like to think.

But now, an Iowa researcher has found fields with rootworms resistant. The fear is that the resistance will spread. Monsanto’s GMO corn seed with the gene producing the crystalline protein was so successful that it’s estimated that roughly a third of U.S. corn now carries the gene. Meaning that the rise of the resistant super rootworm may be coming, causing problems for those corn crops.

More problemmatic is that if one bug can develop resistance then it seems likely that others will too (just like the resistant bacteria). And we will continue to seek to tinker with Mother Nature to develop that super crop, resulting in more and more super bugs.

But you can’t fool Mother Nature for long.

Back to School with Microban?

This post is part of the Green Moms Carnival on Back to School. Be sure to go check out the round up post at Mindful Momma with lots of ideas on going back to school – in green style.

My take on going back to school is pretty close to my good friend Lynn at OrganicMania. You can avoid back to school shopping by remembering to repurpose and reuse. I try to limit new purchases – although the reusable lunch sacks do get pretty worn out each year. So my kids get one new item each year. And I try to purchase with purpose – we don’t even get our class lists until after school starts, so I refuse to buy anything until I know exactly what my kids actually need.

But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t looked at the back to school merchandise when shopping. And boy,  has the use of Microban technologies in school supplies proliferated this year! If you aren’t aware, Microban is a broad range of antimicrobial technologies that are designed to protect products from microbes. Microban technologies do not protect the user of the product from disease causing microorganisms (if Microban International was making such claims, it would be subject to certain regulatory requirements and would have to have proof to support the claims).  Microban technologies are built into the product during the manufacturing process.

What is actually used in the particular Microban technology in a particular product is difficult to discern. It is generally understood that Microban in plastic includes triclosan, a chemical many of us are trying to avoid. But you don’t know for sure. Microban has many different technologies it is using now, including zinc and silver technologies, so the average consumer can’t really tell what formulation is being used in any particular product.

But what is being used begs the question. Why exactly do we need Microban technologies in our binders and other school supplies? It seems like a completely unnecessary use of a chemical. If I need disease prevention, then I should be wiping down the binder and encouraging my children to wash their hands. The Microban technology added to it isn’t going to protect my child from disease – good old handwashing with warm water and soap will do that.

So why the heck are we seeing Microban technologies added to so many products? Because we seem to have a fear of microbes. A completely unnatural fear of microbes. And we think the solution is some antibacterial germ killing chemical, when all we really need to do is wash our hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, rubbing vigorously. That’s it. And it doesn’t take antibacterial soap or antibacterial products.

So how about for back to school we skip the Microban technologies and send our kids to school with some castile liquid soap?


Goodguide Ranks Triclosan Containing Antimicrobial Q-Tips As Top Baby Product

Last week, the GoodGuide tweeted a link to its top rated baby products. So of course I checked out GoodGuide’s Best Baby Care Products. I was disappointed to see that several of the top rated products had ingredients I considered suspect or potentially of concern. I tweeted back to the Good Guide several comments and concerns about the list, and the Good Guide has contacted me and we are going to discuss my concerns. So I’ll save my post about why the purportedly Best Baby Care Products really aren’t until after we have a chance to have that conversation. However, one of the top rated products was Q-tips Cotton Swabs, Antimicrobial (listed as the number 12 top baby product).

Now, when any product contains to be antibacterial, it grabs my interest. You see, the EPA’s pesticide regulations govern claims regarding consumer products treated with pesticides.  Generally, antibacterial claims mean that the product is treated with triclosan. And triclosan has some potentially significant problems. Triclosan has been linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, and low levels of triclosan may disrupt thyroid function. Triclosan also ends up in our aquatic environments because wastewater treatment plants can’t fully address the triclsoan load. And in the environment, triclosan is disruptive .

The GoodGuide gives Q-tips Cotton Swabs, Antimicrobial a “10” in Health. The Health portion of the score relates to the potential health effects of the product’s ingredients. The ingredients identified by GoodGuide  (from the product’s label) consist solely of 100% cotton. Yet, cotton doesn’t have any antimicrobial properties, so I sent off an email to inquire what made the  Q-tips antibacterial.

And, yes, I was right. The cotton swabs are treated with triclosan.

In fact, here is the response I received from my “friends at Q-Tips”:

Thank you for writing us regarding Q-Tips.

Swab made with 100% high quality bleached cotton specially carded to provide softness and 50% more cotton at the tip (Package carries “Seal of Cotton” logo).

The cotton tip is treated with an “antimicrobial” ingredient and is secured to the applicator with adhesive. The antimicrobial system is incorporated during the cotton swabs forming process.

Antimicrobial system/Processing aid consists of:

– Triclosan is the Antimicrobial

– Methocel is the binder

The incorporation of an antibacterial agent will help prevent the introduction of bacteria, mold and fungi during use and when exposed to potential contamination and environmental conditions (i.e. high humidity and termperature) conducive to bacterial growth and proliferation in storage or use.

So, I disagree with the GoodGuide giving this product top billing as a safe baby product. Any product with triclosan show receive a lower rating because of triclosan’s impact to the environment. In this case, the triclosan content may be low, and there may not be much exposure given how Q-tips are used, but there is still triclosan present, and parents may not expect it. And while the triclosan may be added to prevent contamination of the swab (and thereby exempting Unilever from the requirements of registering the triclosan as a pesticide), the packaging claim of antibacterial probably gives parents and caregivers the impression that using these Q-tips will prevent the transmission of disease. I don’t think that parents or caregivers should be encouraged to use these triclosan-containing Q-tips over conventional Q-tips (and if you are going to use conventional Q-tips, why not go for a green solution . . . )

So, to the GoodGuide, I encourage you to examine the products you are recommending and don’t just rely on the numbers. Put some thought into it.

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.