Minnesota Bans Common Antibacterial Chemical

Soap containing triclosan

Minnesota recently went on record as the first state to ban triclosan, a chemical commonly found in antibacterial soaps and body washes. A bill signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton will take effect Jan. 1, 2017, prohibiting the use of triclosan in products "used by consumers for sanitizing or hand and body cleansing."

The antimicrobial agent and registered pesticide has proven controversial because of concerns over potential health hazards to humans and the environment.

In the last 30 years, triclosan has become ubiquitous in the United States. It is currently used in about 2,000 individual products such as skin cleansers, deodorants, lotions, creams, toothpastes, and cosmetics. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention found that triclosan is also prevalent in humans, detecting the chemical in urine samples of 75 percent of the people tested by the agency.

A January 2013 University of Minnesota study found increased levels of triclosan in the sediments of several lakes and noted that the chemical can break down into potentially harmful dioxins and contaminate the water. Writing for Smithsonian Magazine, Joseph Stromberg outlines some of the dangers associated with triclosan:

Studies have shown that the chemical can disrupt the endocrine systems of several different animals, binding to receptor sites in the body, which prevents the thyroid hormone from functioning normally. Additionally, triclosan penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream more easily than previously thought, and has turned up everywhere from aquatic environments to human breast milk in troubling quantities.

We cannot equate triclosan’s widespread presence with its utility. According to a recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consumer update, “the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.” FDA also notes that "new data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits." For instance, certain antibacterial soaps may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics and may have unanticipated hormonal effects.

In light of these data, the agency issued a proposed rule on Dec. 16, 2013 that would require manufacturers to provide more substantial data to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps. The proposed rule covers only those consumer antibacterial soaps and body washes that are used with water. It does not apply to hand sanitizers, hand wipes, or antibacterial soaps that are used in health care settings such as hospitals.

In response to these growing concerns, industry giants Avon, Proctor & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson have all announced plans to remove triclosan from their products in the interest of public health. Minnesota lawmakers took a step in the right direction this month by enacting the state-wide ban and pressuring even more manufacturers to do away with this nonessential and potentially dangerous chemical in all of their products. Unless manufacturers can provide substantial evidence regarding the health benefits of using triclosan in consumer soap products, FDA should quickly follow suit and prohibit the use of triclosan and other nonessential antibacterial chemicals in consumer soaps and body washes.

This post has been updated since its original publication date.

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