January 8, 2011

Triclosan is the latest "chemical of concern"

After prodding from the watchdog group,"Beyond Pesticides,"  both the FDA and EPA are taking a serious look at the antibacterial chemical, triclosan--with EPA now recognizing it as an "emerging contaminant of concern." You'll see it listed as an "active ingredient" in googads of liquid hand soaps, body washes, dish-washing detergents, and even toothpaste. 

You will NOT find it listed as an ingredient of the human body (it's a darn shame we can't see what's in us) but traces of triclosan have been found in 75 percent of the U.S. population, according to one study. That's probably what finally got the attention of government agencies, plus the suspicion that it may result in bacterial-resistent germs and endocrine disruption. It is not known to be hazardous to humans, but who wants to gamble that it's OK to have it inside us?

There's a public comment period until February 7, 2011 on a petition, published in the Federal Register on December 8, 2010, to ban the antibacterial chemical triclosan. Check it out at   http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2010/12/08/2010-30850/petition-for-a-ban-on-triclosan-notice-of-availability. The link has been inoperable for the past few days, and the process to comment is somewhat onerous. Be sure to follow their detailed instructions. The FDA was expected to communicate its findings in the spring of 2011, but don't hold your breath.

Instead, accept the findings that plain old soap will kill those pesky germs if you do more than a cursory hand-washing. Remember the advice to sing "Happy Birthday" twice (preferably quietly) while you wash your hands for an adequate time.

Or check out http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm205999.htm  to see what the FDA is advising us about triclosan.

FYI: Why are two government agencies involved? The FDA gets involved and requires ingredients be listed for a "hand soap," and the EPA oversees it if it's a "dish-washing liquid." Our government in action!

A recent posting on http://www.greenbiz.com/ explains that Colgate-Palmolive has repositioned its antibacterial dish-cleaning liquid, the orange-colored "Ultra-Palmolive Antibacterial," as only for dishes now. When it was marketed as a "hand soap," the FDA required that triclosan be listed as the active ingredient. The label now list a replacement ingredient, L-Lactic Acid. Is that a good ingredient? The Environmental Working Group's "Skin Deep" database http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/  rates L-Lactic Acid with a "low hazard" rating of 1 and triclosan a "high hazard" rating of 7 on a scale from 1 to 10.

Greenbiz.com also states that "Colgate-Palmolive also is moving from triclosan in its hand soaps. It formerly marketed Softsoap brand antibacterial hand soap containing triclosan, with a label claiming elimination of 99 percent of germs. It is now rolling out a new line of Softsoap hand soaps which merely state that they "wash away bacteria." The back label of the new Softsoap "Kitchen Fresh Hands" bottle reminds purchasers that "The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take. It is best to wash hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds."

Colgate-Palmolive's been making the product switches without much fanfare. The market for antibacterial soaps is largely a commodity market, with brands competing on price and those brands containing triclosan falling out of favor with environmentally concerned consumers. Colgate-Palmolive's substitution of L-Lactic Acid in its dish detergent helps differentiate its product in that market from other companies' antibacterial offerings containing triclosan. (Colgate-Palmolive is retaining use of triclosan in its Total brand -- a line of therapeutic toothpastes -- because of health benefits demonstrated in clinical trials.)"

Businesses worry about "toxic lockout"--the term used for products containing out-of-favor chemicals if retailers exclude them from the marketplace. Look at BPA as a good example of how informed consumers can affect the products on our shelves. Mothers began looking for "No BPA" on polycarbonate baby bottles a few years ago. Now it's darn near impossible to find plastics without this label in 2011.

Staples, for example, has not banned certain chemicals in its products but has given its suppliers a list of about two dozen "bad actor" chemicals. Triclosan is on their list!