On July 14, 2009, Beyond Pesticides and Food and Water Watch submitted an amended petition to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requiring that the agency ban the use of the controversial pesticide triclosan for non-medical applications on the basis that those uses violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. Strong scientific evidence suggests that pervasive use of triclosan poses imminent threats to human health and the environment.
“Numerous scientific studies and reports clearly indicate that in addition to its human health and environmental dangers, triclosan is not effective for many of its intended benefits and may actually be doing consumers more harm than good,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Even worse, is that current regulations on triclosan haven’t been updated since 1994 and much of the science used by the FDA to regulate the pesticide dates back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. The agency’s inconsideration of new scientific research on triclosan represents an egregious failure to properly protect the public against this dangerous pesticide.”
Regulated by both the FDA and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), triclosan is commonly found in hand soaps, toothpastes, deodorants, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, facial tissues, antiseptics, fabrics, toys, and medical devices. Scientific studies indicate that widespread use of triclosan causes a number of serious health and environmental problems.
Chief among those issues is resistance to antibiotic medications and bacterial cleansers, a problem for all people, but especially vulnerable populations such as infants and the elderly. Triclosan is also a known endocrine disruptor and has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones, which could potentially increase risk for breast cancer. Further, the pesticide can also interact with other chemicals to form dioxin and chloroform, thereby exposing consumers to even more dangerous chemicals.
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 hazardous residues in fish and food crops.
“Triclosan’s growth to a nearly $1 billion consumer market is indicative of the failure of the FDA to regulate unnecessary, ineffective products that are toxic to both people and the environment,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “The marketing of triclosan preys on consumer fears regarding bacterial-born illness, despite the fact that scientific findings show triclosan to be no more effective than soap and water, and may actually cause more harm than good in advancing bacterial resistance.”
Triclosan is a widely used antibacterial agent found in hundreds of consumer products, from hand soap, toothpaste and deodorant to cutting boards, socks and toys. A recent study found that triclosan alters thyroid function in male rats. Other studies have found that due to its extensive use in consumer goods, triclosan and its metabolites are present in waterways, fish, human milk, serum, urine, and foods. A U.S Geological Survey (USGS) 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (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.
For more information on triclosan and its impacts on human and environmental health, visit our Antibacterial program page.