(Beyond Pesticides, May 6, 2010) The European Commission has announced that triclosan has been formally withdrawn from the European list for use as a food contact additive; however, plastic materials that are intended to come in contact with food and placed on the market before November 2010 may still be sold until November 2011. The decision follows the European Union’s 2009 regulations to impose limits on the amount of triclosan contained in cosmetics.
Ciba, the Swiss-based company that is a subsidiary of BASF, announced last year that they had withdrawn the application of triclosan as a food contact additive so that they could instead focus their sales in the personal hygiene, health care and medical device sector. The company declared this to be a “strategic business decision” and declared that triclosan use as as an additive in plastics intended to come into contact with food was no longer “appropriate.” In the U.S. in 2009, Ciba requested a voluntarily cancellation of the registrations for the technical grade triclosan regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and incorporated into plastics and textiles. Ciba continues to market triclosan for medical and personal care products, which are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administrative (FDA). Har-Met International, Inc is the remaining registrant of technical grade triclosan in the U.S. for uses regulated by EPA. In EPA’s 2008 dietary risk assessment (as part of the Reregistration Eligibility Decision) for indirect food uses of triclosan, the agency found that when the chemical was incorporated into plastics and textiles, such as cutting boards, countertops conveyor belts etc., it posed no risks, even though no residue chemistry data were formally submitted to the agency for triclosan. Beyond Pesticides, in comments to the agency in 2008, notes that researchers find that triclosan can migrate from kitchenware into food, including from a treated cutting board, and that the agency should not register any uses of triclosan that come in contact with food before exposures are adequately assessed and a food use tolerance set.
Ciba claims that its decision to pull out of the plastics and textiles market enables the company to focus on personal care and hygiene, while arguing that there exists an “exhaustive database of safety research” and an “exemplary record of safety and efficacy.” It is rare, however, for chemical companies to pull out of a growing and apparently lucrative market.
The scientific literature has extensivelly linked the non-medical uses of triclosan to many health and environmental hazards. Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones, which could potentially increase risk for breast cancer. Triclosan is also shown to alter thyroid function, and other studies have found that due to its extensive use in consumer goods, triclosan and its metabolites are present in, fish, umbilical cord blood and human milk. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives also found that triclosan was present in the urine of 75% of the U.S. population, with higher levels in people in their third decade of life and among people with the highest household income.
Researchers have associated triclosan use with bacterial resistance to antibiotic medications and bacterial cleansers. Triclosan products are so widely used that they promote the emergence of bacteria resistant to antibiotic medications and antibacterial cleansers because they leave behind residues that continually expose bacteria to low level concentrations of the pesticide. The European Commission recently requested the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety to assess the issue of bacterial resistance to triclosan, and found that there are concerns that low concentrations can “trigger the expression of resistance” in bacteria and that more investigation is needed.
Due to the fact that many products containing triclosan are washed down the drain, triclosan also shows up in water systems and sewage sludge. Accumulation of the pesticide in waterways and soil has been shown to threaten ecosystems and produce residues in fish and possibly food crops. A study found that triclosan is one of the most detected chemicals in U.S. waterways and at some of the highest concentrations. Triclosan has been found to be highly toxic to different types of algae, keystone organisms for complex aquatic ecosystems. A recent EPA survey of sewage sludge found that triclosan and its cousin triclocarban were detected in sewage sludge at the highest concentrations out of 72 tested pharmaceuticals. Triclosan can combine with chlorine in tap water to form chloroform, which is listed as a probable human carcinogen. Also, triclosan is converted into dioxin- a highly toxic compound, when exposed to sunlight in an aqueous environment, thereby exposing consumers to even more dangerous chemicals.
Beyond Pesticides, in partnership with Food and Water Watch and 78 other groups, submitted petitions to both the FDA and EPA requiring that they all non-medically prescribed triclosan uses on the basis that those uses violate several federal statutes. Prompted by this petition, which was then echoed by Rep. Markey’s (D-MA) letters of concern, the FDA responded, “existing data raise valid concerns about the [health] effects of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients,” and announced plans to address the use of triclosan in cosmetics or other products. EPA, however, in its response maintains that the agency does not currently plan to reevaluate its regulations surrounding the use of triclosan until 2013.
Since the 2004 publication of “The Ubiquitous Triclosan,” Beyond Pesticides has been exposing the dangers of this toxic chemical. Now, along with Food and Water Watch and over 80 environmental and public health groups, Beyond Pesticides is leading a national grassroots movement calling for the ban of triclosan from consumer products. Beyond Pesticides is calling on manufacturers, retailers, school districts, local businesses and communities to wash their hands of triclosan and protect our nation’s waters and public health from this toxic pesticide. To learn more about this grassroots campaign and the join the movement, visit our triclosan homepage.
TAKE ACTION: Join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today. Avoid products containing triclosan, and encourage your local schools, government agencies, and local businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free. Urge your municipality, institution or company to adopt the model resolution which commits to not procuring or using products containing triclosan.