Thinking about buying some handy 'germ fighting' dish soap or bathroom cleanser? Think again. In all likelihood, those cleaners contain triclosan, a toxic pesticide that's marketed as an "antibacterial agent" but is powerful enough to threaten children's health and pollute mothers' breast milk.
According to a study by researchers at the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), triclosan has been:
linked to cancer in lab animals
targeted for removal from some stores in Europe for its health and environmental risks
recommended against use at home by the American Medical Association
Triclosan's human health and environmental impacts are serious:
It may disrupt the thyroid hormone system, which is essential for proper growth and development, particularly for brain growth in utero and during infancy.
It breaks down into very toxic chemicals, including a form of dioxin; methyl triclosan, which is acutely toxic to aquatic life; and chloroform, a carcinogen formed when triclosan mixes with tap water that has been treated with chlorine.
It pollutes the environment. Scientists surveying 85 U.S. rivers and streams found traces of triclosan in more than half. Studies done at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada show that triclosan exposure endangers frogs and other aquatic wildlife.
Even though there is no evidence that triclosan is keeping homes cleaner, the toxin is showing up in the most unlikely products: toothpaste, shower curtains, cutting boards, and mattresses as well as liquid hand soap, dishwashing detergent, and window cleaner. It is touted by leading brands like Softsoap, Dial and Bath & Body works. EWG's research shows it is an ingredient in almost half of 259 hand soaps.
"It¹s time to ban triclosan from all personal care and household products," says EWG Staff Scientists Rebecca Sutton, PhD.
Dr. Stuart Levy, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, says "No current data demonstrate any health benefits from having antibacterial-containing cleansers in a healthy household."
The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to determine whether and how to regulate triclosan and other antibacterial agents. Their review could take months, even years.
In the meantime, here's how you can protect yourself:
Worry less about germs. Dr. Levy and other medical professionals note that people who are exposed to household germs usually develop stronger immune systems and are healthier overall. Aim to be clean, not germ-free.
Read product labels. If you see the words "antibacterial," "kills germs," or "triclosan," find an alternative.
Talk to store managers. Tell them you're refusing to buy antibacterial products because they threaten human health and the environment.
Shift your spending to safe, eco-friendly cleansers:
For triclosan-free toothpaste, consider UltraBrite Advanced Whitening or Tom's of Maine, both of which are available in most grocery and drug stores. For other alternatives, consult the Safe Cosmetics Data Base.
For liquid hand soap, try Kiss My Face Self-Foaming Soaps.
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