Daily News Archive
From December 12, 2001

Study finds Commonly Used Bactericide in Breast Milk and Fish

In a study to be published in the next issue of Chemosphere, researchers found high levels of triclosan, a commonly used bactericide, in three out of five samples of breast milk. The Swedish research team, headed by Adolfsson-Erici, also found triclosan in the bile of fish exposed to municipal wastewater in laboratory experiments and in fish living in three wastewater treatment plants' discharge waters.

The bactericide can be found in numerous plastic and textile products like toys, high chairs, humidifiers, cutting boards, sponges, carpeting, socks and underwear, as well as personal care products like soaps, detergents, deodorants, cosmetics, lotions/creams, mouthwashes and toothpaste. Ciba-Geigy, the principal manufacturer, sells the bactericide under the trade names Irgasan DP 300 and Irgacare MP. Ultra-Fresh, Amicor, Microban, Monolith, Bactonix and Sanitized are some of the names of treated polymers and fibers.

You may recall headlines like, "New toys 'bacteria busters'" and articles proclaiming that parents need not worry anymore about their children picking up germs from their toys because of a new line of "germ-fighting" toys. But on December 5, 1997, The EPA issued a civil administrative complaint charging Microban Products Co. with making unsubstantiated public health claims for its pesticide, Microban Plastic Additive "B."

Microban Products Co., and consequently some toy manufacturers using their product, made claims, according to EPA that the toys treated with this pesticide protect children from infectious diseases caused by bacteria such as E. Coli, Staph and Strep. According to news articles, Hasbro's Playskool division introduced 15 toys with Microban and said that it had an overwhelmingly positive response to its highchair with an "antibacterial" tray, claiming, "[I]t stops mold, mildew, fungi and a range of bacteria that can cause sore throats, skin infections ad stomach ailments."

EPA stated in 1997 that it registered the pesticide to be used "to protect the plastic in the products from deterioration" or "inhibit bacterial growth in plastic." EPA also stated that the safety assessments gave no indication that triclosan poses a threat to children, but it does not have enough information to claim that triclosan is effective against germs as claimed by Harsbro, since is registration is limited to plastic and textiles.

Triclosan is a chlorinated aromatic and is known to bioaccumulate in fatty tissue. Quantex Labs of New Jersey, providers of analytical testing for triclosan, state that there is potential to produce dioxins and furans in the manufacturing process.

There is limited information about triclosan's efficacy. One study, conducted by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service in 1998, found that triclosan-incorporated plastic was not effective for reducing bacteria on meat surfaces.

A study conducted by Peter Gilbert of the University of Manchester in England found that surfaces, such as cutting boards, impregnated with the compound slowly release triclosan and could promote resistance. Another problem with such antibacterial agents is the fact that they not only kill the intended microscopic organisms, but they also destroy the beneficial bacteria in the environment and our bodies.

For more information, contact Beyond Pesticides.