A group of environmentally-conscious public employees is calling for a ban on triclosan; a commonly used antibacterial chemical, which they say does little to prevent illness and is a threat to human health and the environment.
The petition to ban triclosan was put forward to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this month by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The organization says that triclosan is aiding in the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant illnesses, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA). They also say that triclosan is also being found to accumulate in higher and higher levels in wildlife.
Triclosan is an antifungal and antibacterial chemical added to many U.S. cleaning products; from toothpaste to hand soap to acne medication. However, the FDA has stated that there is no evidence it provides any health benefit to consumers.
Many experts, including the American Medical Association, are concerned that the widespread and haphazard use of the antibacterial agent helps bacteria build resistances to modern drugs, which makes them harder to treat. According to PEER, more than 90,000 people die each year due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“In our quest to protect ourselves from germs, Americans are exposing themselves to far greater biological dangers,” New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former EPA scientist, said in a press release. “Given that there are equally effective, less dangerous alternatives, there is no reason to subject people and the environment to these hazards.”
About a year ago, in April 2010, the FDA published a web page titled “Triclosan: What Consumers Should Know.” On the webpage, the FDA says that while there are no known human health risks connected to triclosan, there have been a number of scientific studies that have raised concerns since the agency last reviewed the antibacterial chemical.
The FDA says that studies have shown that triclosan can alter hormone regulation in some animals. Other studies have supported the belief that it contributes to the evolution of bacteria that is antibiotic resistant.
“At this time, the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water,” the agency concluded.
The FDA is in the process of reviewing triclosan’s hormonal effects in light of the animal studies and expects to release its findings sometime this spring.