Widely Used Antibacterial Triclosan Should Be Banned
Rising Threat to Human Health and Environment Yet No More Effective than Soap
Washington, DC — One of the most prevalent antibacterial chemicals in the U.S. should be banned because it presents a growing threat to human health, contaminates water and persists in the environment, according to regulatory filing submitted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group also points to studies showing that the chemical triclosan is no more effective than soap and water at combating bacteria, fungi, and mildew.
Today, triclosan can be found in detergents, dish-washing liquids, soaps, hand creams, acne medication, deodorants, cosmetics, toothpastes, and as an additive in plastics (such as cutting boards and baby toys) and even textiles (e.g., sports wear). The chemical is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a pesticide and the agency has been petitioned to review its previous regulatory permission (called a registration) to allow consumer use of triclosan.
Among arguments raised by PEER supporting the triclosan petition brought by Beyond Pesticides are –
- More than 90,000 people die annually in the U.S. from infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Continued use of triclosan will result in more bacteria resistant to antibiotics, thus exacerbating this problem – a caution also voiced by the American Medical Association;
- Widespread use of triclosan makes it probable that Americans of all ages receive life-time exposures to triclosan and it is being discovered in tissues of many people tested; and
- Triclosan is one of the six most prevalent pharmaceuticals found in wildlife scavengers. Nearly a third of wild bottlenose dolphins tested in South Carolina and Florida had detectable triclosan levels. Besides being ubiquitous, it is also bio-accumulating, meaning that concentrations will only go up the food chain.
“In our quest to protect ourselves from germs, Americans are exposing themselves to far greater biological dangers,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former EPA scientist and lawyer. “Given that there are equally effective, less dangerous alternatives, there is no reason to subject people and the environment to these hazards.”
Another source of concern is triclosan in our waters. Traditional wastewater treatment plants do not remove the triclosan from wastewater. Since it is added to dishwashing liquids, soaps, toothpastes and other personal care products that find their way down the drain, significant amounts enter treatment plants and re then discharged into receiving waters. To make matters worse, there is no effective way to remove triclsoan from soils and water. Thus, beyond its power to regulate pesticides, PEER urges that EPA take action against triclosan under both the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“There is mounting evidence that this chemical is finding its way into the water we drink and the food we eat,” added Bennett. “We are asking EPA to meet its clear responsibility under the law to protect public health and the environment.”