An antibacterial soap ingredient is turning up in lakes and streams.
The ingredient is called triclosan which has been in the headlines since the FDA announced last month it has plans to review its safety.
Triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal, was patented in 1964. It was originally used by doctors to scrub up before surgery.
But by the late 1980s it started showing up in commercial hand soaps.
Now triclosan is found in at least 76% of hand soaps. Find it listed in the ingredients in dishwashing liquid, clothes, toys, furniture, kitchenware, cosmetics, mouthwash, toothpaste and deodorant. It is also found in plastics and sheets to make them antimicrobial.
Unfortunately, most of the triclosan used goes down the drain, into wastewater and eventually into lakes and streams. The chemical has been found in human bodies around the world and in 58% of 139 streams sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1999 and 2000, reports Discovery News.
A newly published study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology finds that triclosan may be responsible for four types of dioxin found in a Minnesota lake. Dioxins are linked to cancers. Additional concerns are that triclosan may be able to disrupt hormones and contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
"Any time we are making something accumulate in the environment that we don't fully understand, that's potential for concern," said study author William Arnold, an environmental chemist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
During wastewater treatment, a portion of triclosan isdegraded. The rest ends up in sewage sludge. It's been found in sediment over 30 years old and may form with other compounds including dioxin.
The FDA reports triclosan is not known to be harmful to humans. In 1997, an FDA review of the effectiveness of the chemical in Colgate Total toothpaste found the triclosan was effective in preventing gingivitis.
The Environmental Working Group finds the EPA has approved 20 different triclosan mixtures from 11 companies. Look for the names Vinyzene DP; Microban; Microbanish; Invasin, among others. Annual production exceeds a million pounds.
What to do?
Environmental groups and Rep. Ed Markey are urging the EPA and FDA to ban triclosan from consumer products, especially those used by young children and to take a strong stand against it as the European Union has already done.
Consumers can avoid purchasing products with triclosan on the label. The University of Michigan School of Public Health finds that plain soap is just as effective as antibacterial soap with triclosan and some plant oils have been effectively synthetsized into antimicrobial sanitizers. #