What is triclosan? Originally
introduced into hospital settings in the 1970s, the pesticide triclosan has
become widely used for its antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.
This synthetic compound works by binding to the active sites of enzymes
preventing the enzyme from synthesizing fatty acids necessary for cell membrane
production and reproduction. Triclosan
can be found in numerous consumer products such as antibacterial soaps,
deodorants, toothpastes, and cosmetics as well as furniture, toys, kitchenware,
and clothing. Triclosan is also marketed under the names Microban® (when used
on plastics and clothing) and Biofresh® (when used in acrylic fibers). This
synthetic compound works by binding to the active sites of enzymes preventing
the enzyme from synthesizing fatty acids necessary for cell membrane production
and reproduction. Because humans do not posses this particular enzyme, known as
protein reductase enzyme (ENR), triclosan has been believed to have minimal
effects on people.
What are the health
concerns? Although triclosan is not considered hazardous to
humans by the Food and Drug Administration, some studies suggest triclosan may
be associated with serious health impacts. Triclosan is lipophilic, meaning it can accumulate in fatty
tissues of the body, and it has been linked to contact dermatitis (skin
irritations). Its role in creating a more sterile environment is believed to
contribute to the increase in allergies and asthmatic conditions in children; the
American Medical Association said in 2000 that “there is little evidence to
support the use of antimicrobials in consumer products” and that given the risk
of antimicrobial resistance, “it may be prudent to avoid the use of
antimicrobial agents in consumer products.” Triclosan may be useful in hospital settings or for people with compromised immune systems, but the Food and Drug Administration has found no health benefits of its use in a household setting, explaining that it is no better than soap and water at reducing germs. In animal testing, triclosan has been found to alter hormone
regulation and may have thyroid and estrogen-related health effects.
ubiquitous in the environment and in our bodies. Triclosan poses a threat
to water sources across the United States; 95% of triclosan uses are in
consumer products, which then get washed down residential drains, and municipal
water treatment plants are not equipped to remove the compound. Triclosan is
toxic to various types of algae, which has the potential to disrupt water
eco-systems. Triclosan found in water may react with UV rays to produce low
levels of dioxins, which are highly carcinogenic, weaken the immune system, decrease
fertility, disrupt sex hormones, and are linked to miscarriages and birth
defects. Triclosan is one of the most abundant compounds in U.S. streams,
according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The CDC found measurable levels of triclosan in 75% of the
samples collected for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
(NHANES) between 2003 and 2004, proving the ubiquity of this compound in the
environment and in the population.
In January, 2010, PSR joined with over 80 citizens, health,
and environmental groups in submitting a
petition to the EPA on the potential human health effects of widespread use
of triclosan, and the failure of the EPA to take adequately take into consideration
such health concerns. The petition was published in the Federal Register in
December, 2010, at which point EPA invited public comment. In January, 2011,
Dr. Kristen Welker-Hood, PSR’s Director of Environment and Health programs, met
with EPA officials to discuss the need to phase out triclosan for non-medical
uses. In that meeting, as part of PSR’s ongoing effort to reduce human exposure
to toxic chemicals, Dr. Welker-Hood addressed the health concerns associated
with endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as triclosan.
2011, PSR submitted comments to the EPA
explaining why we support a ban on triclosan.
The Ubiquitous Triclosan Beyond Pesticides.
Triclosan Facts Source: EPA.
Triclosan: What Consumers Should Know Source: FDA.
Triclosan Fact Sheet Source: CDC.
Summaries and Recommendations of Council on Scientific
Affairs Reports 2000 AMA Annual Meeting. Use of Antimicrobials in Consumer Products (CSA Rep. 2, A-00). American Medical Association resolution.
Updated February 2011