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New research on triclosan reveals further health concerns
Kathy Attar, MPH
February 2, 2015
Flu and cold season is upon us. For parents of young children, this time of year can be trying -- endless colds, fevers, and sleepless nights. Products espousing to kill cold and flu germs can be particularly tantalizing. However, some products labeled antibacterial -- soap, lotion, hand sanitizer, etc. -- have been connected to negative health outcomes while not being shown to be any more effective at reducing illness than hand washing with plain soap and water.
In fact, there currently is no evidence that over-the-counter antibacterial products are any more useful at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. There is strong evidence that certain ingredients (triclosan and triclocarban) in these products may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and have unanticipated hormonal effects.
A new study released in early January shows that long-term exposure to triclosan promotes the growth of liver tumors in mice, raising concerns about its safety for humans. Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical used in a wide variety of consumer products such as cosmetics, soaps, detergents, and toothpaste. Triclosan has been found in 97 percent of breast milk samples from lactating women and in the urine of nearly 75 percent of people tested. Triclosan is also listed as one of the seven most frequently detected compounds in stream water across the U.S.
In the study, California researchers investigated long-term exposure to triclosan in mice, comparing its effects on the liver compared to mice that were not exposed. They found that chronic exposure in mice caused liver damage and liver cell death. Although the animal studies used higher concentrations than generally predicted for human exposure, the study shows that triclosan can promote liver tumors, and that the way triclosan acts on the mouse may be relevant to human physiology. The authors concluded that because of this new data, the potential of triclosan to cause liver cancer in humans should be evaluated.
In 2011, PSR petitioned the EPA to ban triclosan. EPA regulates the use of triclosan as a pesticide and is in the process of updating its assessment of the effects of triclosan when used in pesticides. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) focuses on the effects of triclosan when used in consumer products such as hand soaps and body washes. FDA issued a proposed rule in December 2013 that would require manufacturers to provide more data to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps that are used with water. PSR and other public health and environmental advocates have urged FDA to go further in their review of triclosan and triclocarban and other antibacterial ingredients. The review should not be limited to antibacterial soaps only but should apply to all personal care products that contain triclosan and triclocarban. Regulations will likely be finalized in 2016.
How to reduce exposure to Triclosan:
- Skip antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer. If you cannot wash your hands with plain soap and water, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid antibacterial products. Triclosan can be used in products such as toothbrushes, towels and cutting boards labeled “antibacterial” or odor-fighting.
- Read your labels. Look for triclosan and triclocarban in personal care products.