Citing a Serious Health Threat, Over 200 International Scientists Call for Limit on Antibacterial Triclosan
(Beyond Pesticides, June 21, 2017) More than 200 international scientists and medical professionals have signed the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban, which states that triclosan and its chemical cousin triclocarban pose a risk to human health, and urges the international community to limit use of these antimicrobials, which are associated with bacterial resistance and no more effective than soap and water. In 2016 after manufacturers failed to prove efficacy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates cosmetic triclosan products, announced that manufacturers must, by September 2017, remove triclosan from over the counter hand soaps. The agency still allows the chemical in toothpastes and other products, such as hand wipes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates triclosan in household items, textiles and plastics, still permits wide use of the chemical in a range of products.
The Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban is “based on extensive peer-reviewed research,” and “concludes that triclosan and triclocarban are environmentally persistent endocrine disruptors that bioaccumulate in and are toxic to aquatic and other organisms.” The statement includes evidence of human health threats, and provides recommendations intended to mitigate harm from triclosan, triclocarban, and other similar antimicrobials. The recommendations are listed below:
- “Avoid the use of triclosan, triclocarban, and other antimicrobial chemicals except where they provide an evidence-based health benefit (e.g., physician-prescribed toothpaste for treating gum disease) and there is adequate evidence demonstrating they are safe.
- Where antimicrobials are necessary, use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems.
- Label all products containing triclosan, triclocarban, and other antimicrobials, even in cases where no health claims are made.
- Evaluate the safety of antimicrobials and their transformation products throughout the entire product life cycle, including manufacture, long-term use, disposal, and environmental release.”
Triclosan has been used for over 30 years in the U.S., mostly in a medical setting, but more recently in consumer products. Numerous reports have linked triclosan to a range of adverse health and environmental effects, from cancer and endocrine disruption, bacterial and compounded antibiotic resistance, to the contamination of water and its negative impact on fragile aquatic ecosystems. In early June, a study was released showing that the levels of triclosan spike in the bodies of children after they brush their teeth or wash their hands. Beyond Pesticides has cataloged extensive documentation of the potential human and environmental health effects of triclosan and triclocarban.
For nearly two decades, scientific studies have disputed the need for the chemical and linked its widespread use to health and environmental effects and the development of stronger bacteria that are increasingly difficult to control. The chemical offers no more health protection than soap and water, according to studies. In fact, triclosan contributes to antibiotic resistance, which has become an international public health threat.
Many agencies and companies have taken steps to get triclosan out of the marketplace. In addition to FDA’s announcement in 2016 that triclosan is banned from hand soaps, indicating that the chemical does not have substantial health benefits, the European Union in 2015 banned triclosan for hygienic uses. In the past, public pressure has contributed to growing awareness of the dangers of triclosan’s use. As a result, several major manufacturers took steps to exclude the chemical before the FDA decision, including Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, which reformulated its popular line of liquid soaps, but continues to formulate Total® toothpaste with triclosan. Minnesota became the first state to ban the toxic antibacterial, announcing that retailers would no longer be able to sell cleaning products that contain triclosan, effective January 2017.
EPA has not been receptive to petitions and requests to cancel registered products containing triclosan. In May 2015, EPA issued its long-awaited response to the petition filed by Beyond Pesticides and Food & Water Watch, denying the request. This means that non-cosmetic consumer products containing triclosan (frequently marketed as microban) are still being sold in stores across America. These chemicals are in all types of household products, from toys, cutting boards, hair brushes, sponges, and computer keyboards to socks and undergarments.
Beyond Pesticides launched a campaign to ban the non-medical uses of triclosan in 2004 with the publication of The Ubiquitous Triclosan: A common antibacterial agent exposed, and the petitioning of the federal government the following year.
The best way to avoid these types of products is by staying informed. Be conscious of labels when buying products, such as toothpaste and hand soaps (the FDA final rule does not go into effect until September 6, 2017, so hand soaps may still contain triclosan). When purchasing home products, you can research whether or not they contain triclosan and plan to avoid buying those products. Encourage your local hospitals, schools, government agencies, and businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free, or follow the lead of Minnesota by banning triclosan; organizations can adopt the model resolution which commits to not procuring or using products containing triclosan. For additional information and resources on the human health and environmental effects of triclosan, join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.