Are we aware of the possibility of harm antibacterial chemicals subject our families to?
If they are not good for us, do we have other options?
If you are a label reading shopper like I am, you already know how prevalent antibacterial chemicals have become in things you regularly buy: from soaps, socks, boots, lunchboxes, food containers, countertops, flooring, to even toys. The most commonly used one is triclosan. Microban and Biofresh are its most familiar trade names. In the US, if triclosan is included in the product, the label must say it. It is an eye opener to go to Amazon, enter “Microban” (which is one of a dozen trade names for triclosan) into the search engine, (like here) and scroll through the huge variety (12, 039 different items!) of products using this antibacterial. Since it is so often encountered today, it is the one I did most of my reading on for this post.
Triclosan was patented in 1964, first used in hospitals in the 1970’s as a surgical scrub, and can now be found in liquid antibacterial soaps and body washes. In solid soap bars you may find triclocarban, a cousin to triclosan. They are both considered antibacterial, although not effective at all against viruses .
A study in 2000 found over 70 percent of liquid soaps and nearly 30 percent of bar soaps contained some type of antibacterial. Triclosan and triclocarban are both adsorbed by the skin and can remain in the body even when used briefly in hand-washing or showering.
As long ago as 1978, the FDA proposed tentative guidelines to remove triclosan from liquid hand soaps and washes because not enough evidence was found regarding it’s safety and effectiveness. No real action has ever been taken, although since a lawsuit by the Natural Defense Resource Council in 2013, the FDA is to issue a final action by 2016 on the use of it in hand soaps.
There have been many studies on triclosan over the years. Here is a sampling:
A 2009 EPA study showed triclosan affected levels of testosterone and sperm production in male rats while female rats showed changed levels of estrogen and thyroid hormones and encouraged early puberty.
Triclosan interferes with muscle function: Read here: http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10301
The CDC found triclosan in the urine of 75 percent of those tested, including children.
Here is a Swedish study regarding triclosan’s appearance in breast milk and plasma.
In July of 2014, both triclosan and triclocarban were found in 90 percent of the surface water sampled in the Great Lakes as well as in many species of the fish.
This article tells us that triclosan in wastewater breaks down into forms of dioxin, a contaminant that can cause immune, reproductive and developmental problems, and an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Several of our recent triclosan experiences: I was looking for a tub bath mat in a department store and could find only one brand of mats in their selection that did not contain triclosan. We discovered after we purchased my husband’s cell phone cover online that it was impregnanted with it. The same was true for a Victorinox kitchen knife I sent for (I really like their knives, but didn’t catch that this one had triclosan in it). Also, I was going to buy a pair of shoes for our granddaughter, Sophie’s, first birthday, but on closer inspection of the packaging, I discovered the soles contained triclosan!
However, there is a growing awareness of the damage triclosan is doing to humans and the environment. In fact, Minnesota, the first state to do so, has issued a law banning triclosan containing products, which is to take effect by 2017. Looking at liquid soap and dish detergents at Walmart yesterday, I saw a few of them still contained triclosan, but some listed benzalkonium chloride or chloroxylenol as the active ingredient instead. Also, interestingly enough, I found Palmolive’s antibacterial dish liquid uses l-lactic acid for this purpose, which is a naturally occurring acid.
A life threatening problem in hospitals today is the appearance of resistant bacteria that survive the antibiotics that are prescribed for infections. In addition, the chemicals used for cleaning purposes are suspect as reported in this article, “Study Bolsters Concerns that Disinfectants Create Superbugs.”
It seems we Americans like our cleaning chemicals, but do we want to encourage this scenario in our homes? Our germ “phobia” has another possible consequence. Reports are rising that there is a connection between too much hygiene and immune dysfunction, therefore leading to increased allergies.
The 2001 study summary below by Dr. S. Levy, a Tufts University researcher, mentions this possibility:
Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern
“The recent entry of products containing antibacterial agents into healthy households has escalated from a few dozen products in the mid-1990s to more than 700 today. Antibacterial products were developed and have been successfully used to prevent transmission of disease-causing microorganisms among patients, particularly in hospitals. They are now being added to products used in healthy households, even though an added health benefit has not been demonstrated. Scientists are concerned that the antibacterial agents will select bacteria resistant to them and cross-resistant to antibiotics. Moreover, if they alter a person’s microflora, they may negatively affect the normal maturation of the T helper cell response of the immune system to commensal flora antigens; this change could lead to a greater chance of allergies in children. As with antibiotics, prudent use of these products is urged. Their designated purpose is to protect vulnerable patients.”
This will be continued next time with suggestions on how to reduce the use of these chemicals. In the meantime when you go shopping, check your labels-it’s easy to opt out of triclosan-containing products.
Next up: Healthier Options for Household Cleaning Products