200 Scientists Fight Antibacterial Agents

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Today EWG joined an international roster of more than 200 scientists and medical professionals to call for stricter limits on antibacterial chemicals that are added to thousands of consumer products, despite evidence that they are ineffective and pose health risks.

In a statement published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, scientists, doctors, nurses, government officials and others from 30 nations urged avoidance and tighter regulation of triclosan, triclocarban and other antimicrobial chemicals.

These chemicals are approved for use in more than 2,000 products, from shampoos and toothpastes to toys and paints. They build up in people’s bodies, persist in the environment, are linked to hormone disruption and are no better at killing bacteria than plain soap and water. The widespread and indiscriminate use of antimicrobials also contributes to the rise of “superbugs,” bacteria that have evolved to resist the chemicals.

“The Food and Drug Administration’s ban on triclosan in hand soap and body washes is an important first step, but it can’t stop there,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG and a co-author of the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban. “Triclosan may be harming reproduction and development, and may make people more likely to have allergic reactions, but is still found in everything from lotions to cutting boards to blankets. It is long past time to get these unnecessary toxic ingredients out of our homes and environment.”

Since the FDA’s ban last year of triclosan, triclocarban and 16 other antimicrobials in consumer soaps, many brands have switched to different additives, but there is evidence the replacement chemicals are no safer. The FDA is continuing to closely review the safety of antibacterial chemicals known as quats, including benzalkonium chloride, which are also used in some hand sanitizers.

“I was happy the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps. But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse,” said Arlene Blum, Ph.D., executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute in Berkeley, Calif., and another co-author of the statement.

Triclosan is still added to some acne products, lotions, shampoos, mud masks and, specifically, Colgate Total toothpaste. Antimicrobials are commonplace in products where you wouldn’t expect them, including paints, exercise mats, flooring, apparel, food storage containers, home textiles, electronics, kitchenware, school supplies and countertops.

In a first-of-its kind study, in 2008, EWG found triclosan and 15 other toxic chemicals in the blood and urine of 20 teen girls from eight states and the District of Columbia. In another report that year, EWG scoured industry documents and government databases to assemble a list of all the products for which triclosan was approved for use.

EWG’s Guide to Triclosan provides tips for consumers to avoid the chemical. Our Skin Deep® database also identifies products that contain triclosan.

The Florence Statement makes these recommendations:

  • 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 lifecycle, including manufacture, long-term use, disposal and environmental release.

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