12.2.2013 8:52 PM

35 Years Later, FDA Agrees to Set Rules for Controversial Antimicrobial Agent

Triclosan, widely used in consumer products, has been linked to a variety of health and environmental concerns.

Photo: Don Bayley / istock

By Dan Shapley

Under a new court agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Food and Drug Administration has agreed to issue a new rule governing the use of triclosan, a controversial antimicrobial agent used widely in consumer products, by 2016. Action on the drug is a long time coming, given that the FDA first proposed action in 1978.

Triclosan has been found in three-quarters of people whose blood, urine or tissues has been analyzed as part of biomonitoring studies, and it is also found in the environment, after having passed untreated through sewage treatment plants (it even contaminates dolphins, according to one recent study). There's evidence that tricolsan may be an endocrine-disrupting chemical, messing with our hormones, and that it breaks down into dioxin, a known carcinogen. It's also implicated in the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing health concern.

“It’s outrageous that FDA has waited 35 years to protect the public from this harmful chemical. This final rule should prohibit triclosan from use in soaps,” said Mae Wu, an attorney in NRDC’s health program. “Washing your hands with soap containing triclosan doesn’t make them cleaner than using regular soap and water. In fact, not only do soaps containing triclosan fail to provide benefits consumers might expect, they carry potential health risks.”

In general, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a safer alternatives, and they need only be used when hot water and regular old soap are unavailable. Most studies suggest thorough hand-washing is the most effective and environmentally benign way to prevent the spread of germs.

Under pressure from consumer advocates, Many companies have removed triclosan from their products, or pledged not to use it.


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