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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Triclosan-Bad for Humans, Bad for Environment, Great for Big Business

First I have to warn you that this blog is going to be long and maybe a bit dry, but what is in it is important to you and your family’s health.

I have to preface this article by saying that I have a personal dislike of Triclosan. I spent weeks of misery itching, scratching and looking like I had been enclosed in a closet with a hive full of hornets because I used a bar of Dial soap with Triclosan in it. It was the most miserable 2 ½ weeks of my life.

I also have to admit I have to be grateful to Dial soap and it’s Triclosan because it was the impetus that pushed me into the handcrafted soap business. Were it not for the chemical allergy to Triclosan and my desire for an entirely natural soap I would never have been brave enough to try to make soap by myself. Even though I had made it with my grandmother 25 years earlier, she had passed and I had no one to coach me. But as my husband said, “There is nothing that you cannot learn with a little time, a little gumption and the internet.”
Image: graur razvan ionut /

What is it? Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent. It is polychloro phenoxy phenol. Millions of Americans are using antibacterial soaps and cleaners containing triclosan every day, believing that these products with their germ killing abilities will keep them and their families healthy. But are they right? Are these chemicals with their germ killing abilities helping us? Are they helping our environment? NOT!

A summary of research from 60 scientific studies on how triclosan impacts human health and the environment by Beyond shows that triclosan exposure has become so common that it has shown up in the blood, urine, and breast milk of people across the globe.

“In a risk assessment by the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety, experts concluded: “Widespread use of triclosan, including use in cosmetic products, selects for development of triclosan resistance. Since this may contribute to the development and spread of concomitant resistance to clinically important antimicrobial agents, such use represents a public health risk. Therefore, the use of triclosan should be restricted.”

Antibacterial products account for about $1 billion in sales annually. Triclosan is found in 76% of all liquid soap sold in stores and is also added to toothpaste, mouthwash, cosmetics, fabrics, and plastic kitchenware. Triclocarban, which is a derivative product is a common additive in antibacterial bar soap and deodorant. So obviously the stakes are very high for the manufacturers of these products and they are automatically claiming that their products are safe and saying that scientists are making alarmist conclusions in their research.

Three separate studies at the University of California, Davis showed that the chemicals -- triclosan and triclocarban -- have potential to affect sex hormones and interfere with the nervous system and has become a suspect in the search for causes of autism.

“Dan Chang, PhD, a professor of environmental engineering at U.C. Davis and one of the researchers involved in the studies admit that it's too early to know whether the chemicals pose a serious health risk, it's already been shown that the cleaners might not work any better than regular soap and water -- and may contribute to the rise of resistant bacteria. So, they ask, why take the risk?”

Bottom Line

“A comprehensive analysis from the University Of Michigan School Of Public Health indicated that plain soaps are just as effective as consumer-grade antibacterial soaps with triclosan in preventing illness and removing bacteria from the hands.”

Initially developed as a surgical scrub for medical professionals, Triclosan is being added to a host of consumer products from hand soap, cutting boards to shoes.” However, triclosan has proved to be both dangerous and unnecessary—in 2005, the FDA found no evidence that antibacterial washes containing triclosan were superior to plain soap and water for protecting consumers from bacteria.”

This is the part that scares me the most! For all of you ladies of child bearing age, especially those considering having children in the next few years I am going to put this down exactly as it was written. Not in my words.

“Accumulation of triclosan in our bodies and in wildlife”

Triclosan is lipophilic, meaning that it accumulates in fatty tissues. Studies have found concentrations of triclosan in three out of five human milk samples as a result of exposure through personal care products containing triclosan (ix, x). Triclosan has also been found in umbilical cord blood of infants (xi). These results raise concerns for the developing fetus during vulnerable periods of development, and make the bioaccumulative and endocrine-disruptive potential of triclosan more even more alarming.

Triclosan has been found in the bodies of most Americans, with researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifying triclosan in the urine of 75 percent of the U.S. population (xii). The latest CDC data show a 40 percent jump in triclosan levels in people over a two-year period (xiii).”

Researchers See Potential Health Hazards; Manufacturers Say Products Are Safe

“Isaac Pessah, PhD, director of the U.C. Davis Children's Center for Environmental Health, looked at how triclosan may affect the brain. Some people may carry a mutated gene that makes it easier for triclosan to attach to their cells. That could make them more vulnerable to any effects triclosan may cause.

This is one reason why Pessah named triclosan (and related compounds with similar properties) as a prime target for research into environmental factors that might cause autism.

"These are the compounds you should be going after," he said last April at the Current Trends in Autism conference held in Boston.

While Pessah's new study does not link triclosan directly to autism, many scientists suspect that having certain genes, plus exposure to something in the environment, might trigger processes that lead to autism.

"We already have a list of candidate genes," Pessah says These are genes commonly found in people with autism that may increase vulnerability to things that impact excitable brain cells.”

By Products

In August 2009, the Canadian Medical Association asked the Canadian government to ban triclosan use in household products under concerns of creating bacterial resistance and producing dangerous side products (chloroform).

Reports have suggested that triclosan can combine with chlorine in tap water to form chloroform , which the United States Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a probable human carcinogen. As a result, triclosan was the target of a UK cancer alert, even though the study showed that the amount of chloroform generated was less than amounts often present in chlorinated drinking waters.

Triclosan also reacts with the free chlorine in tap water to produce lesser amounts of other compounds, like 2,4-dichlorophenol. Most of these intermediates convert into dioxins upon exposure to UV radiation (from the sun or other sources). Although small amounts of dioxins are produced, there is a great deal of concern over this effect, because some dioxins are extremely toxic and are very potent endocrine disruptors. They are also chemically very stable, so that they are eliminated from the body very slowly (they can bioaccumulate to dangerous levels), and they persist in the environment for a very long time.


Triclosan is toxic to aquatic bacteria at levels found in the environment. Triclosan inhibits photosynthesis in diatom algae which are responsible for a large part of the photosynthetic activity on Earth.

Endocrine disruption

A 2006 study concluded that low doses of triclosan act as an endocrine disruptor in the North American bullfrog. The hypothesis proposed is that triclosan blocks the metabolism of thyroid hormone, because it chemically mimics thyroid hormone, and binds to the hormone receptor sites, blocking them, so that normal hormones cannot be used. Triclosan has also been found in both the bile of fish living downstream from waste water processing plants and in human milk. The negative effects of triclosan on the environment and its questionable benefits in toothpastes has led to the Swedish Naturskyddsföreningen to recommend not using triclosan in toothpaste. Another 2009 study demonstrated that triclosan exposure significantly impacts thyroid hormone concentrations in the male juvenile rats.

Triclosan is also showing up in dolphins near South Carolina and Florida in concentrations known to disrupt hormones, growth, and development in other animals.

Scientists and doctors agree that using plain soap and water is as effective and definitely safer than using anti-bacterial soaps. Isn’t it time to consider a change back to the old and safe way of cleansing?

The list is long but nothing on the list is 100% imminently disastrous and provable at the moment. But everything points to major problems that only long term scientific studies can prove but by then it may be too late. How many children will be born with autism? How many aquatic animals will be affected or destroyed? How much of the environment will be permanently affected? Which is more important, our health and the health of the environment or the pocketbooks of Big Business?

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