The Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to continue allowing the use of triclosan, an antibacterial agent, in hand soaps, personal care products and other common consumer products. Whenever you see something advertised as "antibacterial" it's likely that triclosan is an ingredient.
The EPA is considering the future of triclosan thanks to a petition by spearheaded by Beyond Pesticides and Food & Water Watch, two groups that have long opposed the use of this pesticide in consumer products. Triclosan is found in the blood and urine of most Americans, and its concentration has increased 50% since 2004, according to the latest tests by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Daily Green has consistently recommended against using antibacterial soap (yes, even for parents with young children), primarily because it doesn't achieve its stated purpose (sanitizing your hands) any better than a thorough washing with regular-old soap and hot water... but it does create conditions that allow for the evolution of antibiotic-resistance among bacteria. There's also evidence that tricolsan may be an endocrine-disrupting chemical, messing with our hormones, and that it breaks down into dioxin, a known carcinogen. Because we dump so much down the drain with each washing, it even contaminates dolphins, according to one recent study.
Though antibacterial products have saturated the market, there are alternatives to antibacterial soap. Triclosan isn't found only in soaps; it's also used in toothpastes, deodorants, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, facial tissues, antiseptics, fabrics, toys and medical devices.
Many companies have removed triclosan from their products, or pledged not to use it, in part thanks to a boycott organized by the same groups that have petitioned the EPA to ban triclosan from all but medical uses.
The EPA has opened a 60-day comment period, during which it will hear from the public about the petition to ban triclosan. The Food and Drug Administration has also been petitioned to ban triclosan.
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