(Beyond Pesticides, January 22, 2008) Triclosan, a very common antibacterial chemical, is present in the plasma and breast milk of nursing mothers, according to a study by Swedish researchers. Every one of the 36 mothers tested positive for triclosan levels in their bodies, and the concentrations were clearly and significantly higher in the exposed group (i.e., those that use triclosan-containing products) than in the control group. This does not come as a surprise since triclosan is widely used in personal care productsâ€”including soaps, deodorants, and toothpasteâ€”as well as plastics and textiles. Although there was high variability within groups, even members of the control group had triclosan present in their plasma, indicating that there are other significant sources of exposure outside of hygiene products.
Triclosan is not removed from wastewater by conventional treatment processes and has been found in both wastewater effluent and sewage sludge. The authors of Triclosan in plasma and milk from Swedish nursing mothers and their exposure via personal care products say that the significance of the presence of triclosan in plasma and breast milk of nursing mothers is not easily deduced and that the health effects, especially the long-term effects of chronic exposure, of triclosan are not fully known. They mention several triclosan-enyzme reactions, such as the capacity to inhibit the iodothyronine hormone sulfotransferase activity in rat liver cytosol in vitro. The findings suggest that triclosan may exert adverse effects on biological systems by interfering with the biotransformation of other exogenous and endogenous compounds. Other studies have found health and environmental effects due to triclosan, ranging from skin irritation, allergy susceptibility, bacterial and compounded antibiotic resistance, and dioxin contamination to destruction of fragile aquatic ecosystems. The study on nursing mothers found the triclosan concentration was lower in milk than in plasma on an individual basis. As a result, the infant is exposed to a considerably smaller dose of triclosan via the breast milk compared to the dose in the mother, so direct contact with products that contain triclosan may be more important for determining exposure of infants.
Various contaminants have been found in the breast milk of both humans and animals, and triclosan has been detected in the urine of three in four people. The effectiveness of antibacterial soaps has been widely disputed by researchers. Triclosan levels in plasma and in breast milk may vary widely from country to country and are possibly influenced by the advice given by national health authorities on the use of products containing disinfectants. The EPA will be publishing an analysis of triclosan in a report Re: Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products due out at the end of 2008. For more information or to voice your concern about triclosan, contact Rick Stevens, EPA, at: 202-566-1135 or [email protected].