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Daily News Blog

02
Jan

Is Your Yoga Mat or Gym Breeding Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria?

(Beyond Pesticides, January 2, 2019) The “indoor microbiome” of yoga studios and other athletic facilities often contain significant levels of antibacterial chemicals like triclosan, which show up in dust and breed antibiotic resistance, according to research published last month in the journal mSystems. Triclosan may be banned from hand soaps, but its continued use in a myriad of other products, from disinfectant sprays to impregnated clothing, yoga mats, and other work-out equipment makes it difficult to avoid this now-ubiquitous chemical. This is a public health concern because these antibacterial or antimicrobial chemicals are link to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance kills over 23,000 people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to the CDC, the World Health Organization has cited this escalating problem as become one of the biggest public health challenges of our time.

Many people may suspect their gym or yoga study is not a germ-free location, but attempts to address these germs through antibacterial sprays or impregnated yoga mats and other surfaces, may be exacerbating the issue—doing much more harm than good. The continued detection of triclosan and its impacts at new and unexpected locations are feeding renewed calls for a complete ban on its use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As study co-author Erica Hartmann, PhD explains, “There are many products with triclosan that are not labeled because they are within the purview of the EPA instead of the FDA [Food and Drug Administration].”  “These things might include antimicrobial gym equipment, such as yoga mats and textiles.”

Using industrial vacuums, the authors of the study took dust samples from 42 different athletic facilities (yoga, martial arts, dance studios and public rec centers) throughout the Portland, OR area in 2016. These areas were chosen because of the close contact patrons have with floor mats and other surfaces, as well as their propensity to regularly use antibacterial sprays to clean these surfaces. Researchers took these dust samples and split them: one part was analyzed for the presence of antibacterials, and another for the presence of microbes.

Every antibacterial chemical tested by researchers showed up in every facility investigated. Gyms, rooms with higher moisture levels, and those with carpeted flooring all had elevated levels of antibacterials compared to other facilities.

The range of microbes detected in the dust from the various facilities was surprisingly diverse. According to the study, only 26% of microbes were detected in more than one building.

Most concerning is the finding that the number of microbes with antibiotic resistant genes was higher in facilities with elevated concentrations of triclosan and its chemical cousin triclocarban. And the type of resistance microbes display is not limited to triclosan—they exhibit a diverse range of resistance measures. “Those genes do not code for resistance to triclosan,” Dr. Hartmann clarifies. “They code for resistance to medically relevant antibiotic drugs.”

The drive to create germ-free spaces has amplified the potency of the infectious bacteria that people are likely to come into intimate contact with. But the solutions are frustratingly simple: “The vast majority of microbes around us aren’t bad and may even be good,” said Dr. Hartmann. “Wipe down gym equipment with a towel. Wash your hands with plain soap and water. There is absolutely no reason to use antibacterial cleansers and hand soaps.”

Triclosan was first registered for use as a surgical scrub in 1972, but quickly made its way from hospitals to the consumer over-the-counter market, where it began being added to soaps advertised for their antibacterial properties. Widespread use of the chemical led to widespread contamination—CDC indicates that roughly 75% of U.S. residents contain triclosan in their bodies. Over the years, more and more evidence came to light that triclosan is not only unnecessary in soaps, it is also causing a range of hazards. Scientific evidence has demonstrated a variety of adverse health impacts of triclosan and triclocarban, including skin irritation, allergies, endocrine disruption, damage to the thyroid, and an increased risk of asthma and eczema in children. It is one of the most frequently detected synthetic compounds in waterways, and is usually not filtered out from water treatment facilities. A 2013 study found that the influx of triclosan into streams alters the microbial community and increases resistance. Beyond Pesticides raised concerns about the health effects of triclosan in 2004 in its piece The Ubiquitous Triclosan, and petitioned the agency to ban the chemical in 2005.

After over a decade of advocacy in which Beyond Pesticides was joined by a range of health and consumer rights groups, in early Fall 2016, FDA announced a final ruling on triclosan’s use in consumer soaps and other washing products. FDA banned 19 specific ingredients, including triclosan and triclocarban, saying they were no longer “recognized as safe and effective,” and no better than using simple soap and water,  citing risks to health and contributions to the problem of bacterial resistance. FDA went further this year, determining that even health care uses of triclosan should be eliminated, though many other regrettable substitutions remain on the market.

And although its use in soaps has been eliminated, it is evident from this recent research that other uses have not been addressed by regulators. FDA continues to allow triclosan to be used in toothpaste like Colgate Total, despite evidence that brushing with these products causes levels of the chemical to spike in children, and accumulates in toothbrushes, causing repeated exposure unless brush heads are thrown out after use is discontinued.

FDA’s ban did nothing to address uses regulated by EPA, which allows it to be incorporated into a range of consumer products with little to no disclosure. Many products containing triclosan are marketed as “microban,” but microban may contain triclosan, or a number of regrettable substitution chemicals, making it even more difficult for consumers to know what they’re being exposed to.

Although EPA in 2015 denied petition by Beyond Pesticides and Food and Water Watch to remove remaining triclosan uses, as new evidence accumulates on the danger of this chemical, calls to ban its use are growing louder. Get informed about triclosan and other unnecessary chemicals in our environment, as well as steps you can take to eliminate their use at home, workplaces, schools, and gyms by visiting Beyond Pesticides’ Antimicrobials and Antibacterials program page. For a more complete history of the regulation of this chemical, see Beyond Pesticides’ triclosan timeline, as was as previous Daily News articles.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source:  Northwestern University Press Release, mSystems (peer-reviewed journal)

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