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Common Antibacterial Agent Causes Health, Environmental Effects and Antibiotic Resistance
(Beyond Pesticides, December 13, 2004) An antibacterial chemical, commonly found in antibacterial soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, cosmetics, fabrics and plastics, has been repeatedly shown to cause health and environmental effects, while compounding antibiotic resistance, according to an article and literature review released by Beyond Pesticides in the latest issue of Pesticides and You. The article, “The Ubiquitous Triclosan: A common antibacterial agent exposed,” explains how this toxic chemical shows up in common consumer products, including antibacterial soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, cosmetics, fabrics and plastics, and provides a thorough review of what is known about the chemical and how it escapes full regulatory review.

The major findings of the article and literature review include the following:

  • Triclosan is found in hundreds of common everyday products, including nearly half of all commercial soaps. It is used so frequently that triclosan has made its way into the human body—a Swedish study found triclosan in human breast milk in three out of five women.
  • Numerous studies have found that triclosan promotes the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. There is good evidence that with the continued widespread use of triclosan, antibiotic resistance will become increasingly problematic.
  • Dioxin, a highly carcinogenic, endocrine disrupting compound, may be formed during the manufacturing process of triclosan, and thus is a likely contaminant. More alarmingly, researchers found that when sunlight is shined on triclosan in water and on fabric, a portion of triclosan is transformed into dioxin. Because of its ubiquitous nature, the conversion to dioxin is of major concern.
  • Triclosan is one of the most frequently detected compounds in rivers, streams, and other bodies of water, often in high concentrations. Triclosan is highly toxic to a number of different types of algae. Since algae are the primary producers in many aquatic ecosystems, high levels of triclosan may have destructive effects on aquatic ecosystems.

The full text of the article is available on Beyond Pesticides’ website. Other articles in this issue of Pesticides and You include “Montana’s War on Weeds: Dow Chemical influences Forest Service shift to its herbicides,” and “Lesson of the West Nile Virus Response: After five years, what have we learned?” To subscribe, contact Beyond Pesticides. For past issues, visit the Pesticides and You Archives.