(Beyond Pesticides, August 12, 2014) The presence of triclosan in soaps and consumer products ranging from cutting boards to pencils means constant exposure to a chemical linked to a wide range of adverse health effects. New data to be presented at the 248th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, reveals that 100% of pregnant women in a multiethnic urban population in Brooklyn, New York tested positive for triclosan in their urine. In half of the pregnant women tested, the chemical also showed up in umbilical cord blood.
“We looked at the exposure of pregnant women and their fetuses to triclosan and triclocarban, two of the most commonly used germ-killers in soaps and other everyday products,” says study co-author Benny Pycke, Ph.D at Arizona State University. “We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened. We also detected it in about half of the umbilical cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses.”
In 2004, Beyond Pesticides published The Ubiquitous Triclosan, sounding the alarm on the rising use of an antibacterial chemical never adequately evaluated for adverse effects by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (while FDA regulates the use of triclosan and other antibacterials in soaps, washes, deodorants and other similar consumer goods, EPA regulates the use of triclosan as a pesticide, such as in anti-bacterial impregnated products like clothing and carpets). Within a short period of time, triclosan made its way into over 2,000 everyday consumer products. “If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but the truth is that we have universal use of these chemicals, and therefore also universal exposure,” notes lead author of the recent study Rolf Halden, Ph.D at Arizona State University.
Previous studies also found triclosan to be present in the bodies of pregnant women. A 2011 study funded by the US Centers for Disease Control found levels of triclosan in pregnant women to be higher than those in non-pregnant women. A study published in 2010 by the University of Florida (UF) raised concerns about triclosan’s endocrine disrupting properties inhibiting proper fetal development. Margaret James, PhD, lead author of the UF study noted, “We suspect that makes this substance dangerous in pregnancy if enough of the triclosan gets through to the placenta to affect the enzyme. We know for sure it is a very potent inhibitor. What we don’t know is the kinds of levels you would have to be exposed to see a negative effect. If this process is interrupted then we wonder if that might affect how the fetus develops. There is a chance it may not produce some of the proteins that it should during development. Therefore there might be a chance at either growth retardation or something worse happening to the fetus.” The chemical also raises concerns immediately after birth. A 2008 study by Swedish researchers found triclosan in the breast milk of nursing mothers. The sum of these reports is especially concerning given a recent study showing that few doctors educate pregnant women on the dangers of environmental toxins.
Last year, FDA announced that it will require manufacturers of antibacterial soaps and body washes to prove that their products are both safe for long-term use and more effective than regular bar soap in order to remain on the market. EPA is accelerating the registration review of triclosan, and both agencies are collaborating to understand the health effects of the chemical. The state of Minnesota has not waited for a federal response to triclosan; earlier this year Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill to prohibit the sale of triclosan-containing soaps and body washes within the state.
Meanwhile, private companies are phasing out triclosan from products due to direct pressure from educated consumers. Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive began reformulating to remove triclosan from their products for several years now. Avon joined these companies earlier in 2014, announcing it will begin phasing the chemical out of “the few” products in its line that include it.
Beyond Pesticides urges concerned consumers to join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today. Read the label of personal care products in order to avoid those containing triclosan. Encourage your local schools, government agencies, and local businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free. Urge your municipality, school, or company to adopt the model resolution which commits to not procuring or using products containing triclosan.
For additional information on the human health and environmental effects of triclosan, see Beyond Pesticides’ Antibacterials program page. And for further information on how to protect your baby form pesticides and other harmful chemicals, see Beyond Pesticides Information for New Moms webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.