Can We Ban Triclosan?

Triclosan is in a slew of antibacterial products like handsoaps—and persists in both the environment and the human body.

On December 8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a 60-day comment period for a petition to ban the antibacterial product triclosan, found in hand soaps, clothing, cosmetics, toothpaste, deodorants and facial tissues. The petition, led by the groups Beyond Pesticides and Food and Water Watch was signed by 82 public health officials and environmental groups, and addresses the threats faced by this widespread chemical which both contaminates waterways and the human body. Despite its widespread use, triclosan has not been widely tested as to its long-term impacts on both environmental and human health.

What is known is that triclosan persists in the environment, it contributes to bacteria that can resist antibiotics and it is also an endocrine disruptor—meaning it interferes with the gland and hormone functions—and therefore, reproductive and developmental functions—of animals and humans. And as triclosan has exploded in consumer use, it has also significantly increased in people's bodies: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that triclosan levels in humans have increased by 50% since 2004; and 75% of us have detectable levels of triclosan in our urine.

Recent studies reveal that triclosan may have adverse affects on fetal growth and development, and that it may contaminate food crops as well. The petition, filed in January of 2010, cites the fact that triclosan's effects on water and the natural world violates several EPA regulations including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The public comment period continues through February 7, 2011.

SOURCES: Beyond Pesticides; Federal Register Triclosan Ban Notice; Washington Post.