Daily Dispatches
Associated Press/Photo by Kiichiro Sato

Using antibacterial everything could actually make you sick


Antibacterial compounds, found in more than 2,000 everyday products, may pose health risks for pregnant women and their unborn babies, scientists reported at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society last week.

The urine samples of every pregnant woman who participated in the recent study, and half of the cord blood samples tested, contained triclosan, one of the most common antibacterial agents used in commercial goods. Many of the samples also contained triclocarban, another common antimicrobial. The presence of the chemicals in cord blood samples shows the compound is crossing the umbilical cord and going to the fetus. There is a growing body of evidence that antibacterial chemicals can lead to developmental and reproductive problems in animals and potentially in humans, said Benny Pycke, researcher at Arizona State University.

The germ-killing chemicals are used in a wide range of common household products including: toothpastes, soaps, cosmetics, clothing, kitchenware, furniture, detergents, carpets, paints, school supplies, and toys. Pregnant women whose blood samples contain butyl paraben, an antibacterial agent often added to cosmetics, tend to have shorter babies, another study conducted at the State University of New York found.

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In time, the human body does flush out the chemicals, but they are so prevalent that exposure to them can be almost constant. “If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but the truth is that we have universal use of these chemicals, and therefore also universal exposure,” Rolf Halden, the lead investigator of the study said.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states there is not sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time, it also says animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation and that several scientific studies have come out since triclosan was last reviewed that merit further investigation. Some of those studies raise the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Additionally, triclosan has been found to be no more effective than regular soap at killing the germs that make people sick. “In light of these studies, FDA is engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient,” the FDA said in a statement.

State policymakers and some manufacturers are also responding to the growing concern over the use of antibacterial agents. Minnesota is the first state to pass a ban on certain products containing triclosan. The ban will take effect in January 2017. Proctor & Gamble has already discontinued the use of triclosan in its products, and Johnson & Johnson has agreed to phase it out by 2015. Colgate states it will not remove triclosan from Colgate Total toothpaste because it is clinically proven to work better than any other toothpaste to reduce the germs that cause gingivitis.

If over-the-counter products, such as soaps, body washes, and toothpastes contain triclosan, it is listed as an ingredient in the “Drug Facts” box of the label, according to the FDA. If a cosmetic contains the chemical, it is included in the ingredient list.

Julie Borg
Julie Borg

Julie is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course.


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