A Scooter, a Dolly, and Triclosan Too

For many children, the holiday season brings surprises in stockings or wrapped beneath bows.  Other surprises, however, may not be as welcome.  For example, did you know that many toys contain a chemical known as triclosan?

What is triclosan?
Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent added to many of the products we use every day in our homes.  It may be used as an ingredient in household cleaning products (dishwashing soaps, laundry detergents) or personal hygiene products (deodorants, body washes), or it may be a component of fabrics or plastic items such as toys.  It is added to products to prevent the spread of bacteria and fungi.

When triclosan was first manufactured in 1969 its use was limited to antibacterial soaps used in hospitals and other healthcare settings.  The chemical is also sold under the Ciba brands Irgasan and Irgacare, or it may be marketed as Microban when used in plastics, or Biofresh when used in clothing.  In the U.S., any product containing triclosan must list the ingredient on the product label.  For a list of products that contain triclosan, click here  and here.

What are the health effects of triclosan?
Triclosan has been found in samples of blood, urine, and breast milk from healthy volunteers who were not purposely exposed to triclosan prior to the study, indicating that many of us are exposed in our everyday lives.  The health effects of triclosan have been studied extensively in laboratory animals. In frogs and rats, triclosan exposure at high doses has been found to disrupt thyroid hormone and to affect reproduction, but there are no studies examining the health effects in humans.  Nevertheless, there is concern that triclosan may work as an endocrine disruptor in humans even at low doses.

What are the environmental effects of triclosan?
The U.S. Geological Survey has detected triclosan in surface water, wastewater, and streams.  But just as in humans, while triclosan has been detected, its effects on the environment are not completely known.  There is evidence that the chemical may be harmful to algae and thus has the potential to disrupt whole food webs.  There is also evidence that triclosan bioaccumulates in fish.  The good news is that 95% of triclosan can be removed from properly treated wastewater.

Is there a benefit to using triclosan?
There is no evidence that including triclosan in soaps, body washes, and household cleaners provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water, and there is no evidence that plastics containing triclosan (Microban plastic) protect users from infections.  The only area in which triclosan has been proven to be beneficial is in oral hygiene products.  Triclosan in Colgate Total toothpaste, for example, has been found to help prevent gingivitis.

The EPA, the FDA, & You
Because many of the animal studies involving triclosan have been performed only recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the two governmental bodies that regulate the use of triclosan in commercial products, are undertaking a comprehensive review of triclosan and its safety.  Currently, neither agency recommends changing consumer behavior, but be on the lookout for possible new recommendations from the EPA and FDA in late 2012 or early 2013.

To be on the safe side, or if you would like to take a precautionary approach to your health, avoid products with triclosan. Do not use antibacterial hand soaps or body washes unless specifically recommended by your physician. Do not use household cleaners that contain triclosan.

For More Information:
FDA Consumer Updates:  http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm205999.htm
EPA Triclosan Facts:  http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/factsheets/triclosan_fs.htm
Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.simplesteps.org/chemicals/triclosan-and-triclocarban-antibacterials

This post was written by Ana Nobis, MD, Preventive Medicine resident, Meharry Medical College

References:
Triclosan.  White Paper prepared by The Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics.  January 2011.
FDA Consumer Updates:  http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm205999.htm
EPA Triclosan Facts:  http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/factsheets/triclosan_fs.htm

Glaser, A.  Pesticides & You.  Beyond Pesticides:  National Coalition Against the Misuses of Pesticide.  2004; 24(3):  12-17.

Gatidou G, Vassalou E, Thomaidis NS.  Bioconcentration of selected endocrine disrupting compounds in the Mediterranean mussel, Mytilus galloprovincialis.  Mar Pollut Bull. 2010 Nov;60(11):2111-6. Epub 2010 Sep 20.

Lishman L, Smyth SA, Sarafin K, Kleywegt S, Toito J, Peart T, Lee B, Servos M,Beland M, Seto P.  Occurrence and reductions of pharmaceuticals and personal care products and estrogens by municipal wastewater treatment plants in Ontario, Canada.  Sci Total Environ. 2006 Aug 31;367(2-3):544-58. Epub 2006 May 12.

 

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