ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP IS TOXIC: Could harm fetus and infants; Pollutes breast milk

Dial_soap_75_oz_pump6210 Thinking about buying some handy ‘germ fighting’ dish soap or bathroom cleanser? Think again. In all likelihood, those cleaners contain triclosan, a toxic pesticide that’s marketed as an "antibacterial agent" but is powerful enough to threaten children’s health and pollute mothers’ breast milk.

According to a study by researchers at the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), triclosan has been:

* linked to cancer in lab animals

* targeted for removal from some stores in Europe for its health and environmental risks

* recommended against use at home by the American Medical Association

Thumb_brownbmp_2  Triclosan’s human health and environmental impacts are serious:

* It may disrupt the thyroid hormone system, which is essential for proper growth and development, particularly for brain growth in utero and during infancy.

* It breaks down into very toxic chemicals, including a form of dioxin; methyl triclosan, which is acutely toxic to aquatic life; and chloroform, a carcinogen formed when triclosan mixes with tap water that has been treated with chlorine.

* It pollutes the environment. Scientists surveying 85 U.S. rivers and streams found traces of triclosan in more than half. Studies done at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada show that triclosan exposure endangers frogs and other aquatic wildlife.

Even though there is no evidence that triclosan is keeping homes cleaner, the toxin is showing up in the most unlikely products: toothpaste, shower curtains, cutting boards, and mattresses as well as liquid hand soap, dishwashing detergent, and window cleaner. It is touted by leading brands like Softsoap, Dial and Bath & Body works. EWG’s research shows it is an ingredient in almost half of 259 hand soaps.

"It¹s time to ban triclosan from all personal care and household products," says EWG Staff Scientists Rebecca Sutton, PhD.

Dr. Stuart Levy, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, says "No current data demonstrate any health benefits from having antibacterial-containing cleansers in a healthy household."

The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to determine whether and how to regulate triclosan and other antibacterial agents. Their review could take months, even years.

In the meantime, here’s how you can protect yourself:

* Worry less about germs. Dr. Levy and other medical professionals note that people who are exposed to household germs usually develop stronger immune systems and are healthier overall. Aim to be clean, not germ-free.

* Read product labels. If you see the words "antibacterial," "kills germs," or "triclosan," find an alternative.

* Talk to store managers. Tell them you’re refusing to buy antibacterial products because they threaten human health and the environment.

* Shift your spending to safe, eco-friendly cleansers:

Bonami *  Bon Ami

Baking soda, vinegar and water

*  Greenworks All Natural Cleaner

* Method Non-Toxic, Fragrance-Free All Surface Cleaner

For triclosan-free toothpaste, consider UltraBrite Advanced Whitening or Tom’s of Maine, both of which are available in most grocery and drug stores. For other alternatives, consult the Safe Cosmetics Data Base.

For liquid hand soap, try Kiss My Face Self-Foaming Soaps.

15 Responses to ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP IS TOXIC: Could harm fetus and infants; Pollutes breast milk

  1. Sustainable is Good July 29, 2008 at 5:36 pm #

    Great piece! Such an important topic that so few are aware of. Thank you for this clear detailed piece covering the issue and providing options. There are a wide range of options available to consumers at normal mainstream grocery stores.

  2. Tamu July 30, 2008 at 7:54 am #

    Thank you for publishing this, the more people find out the better.
    I have opted to use SoapNut derived soap in my dispensers for my children.
    I purchased soapnuts and just boiled them and I put the liquide in the foam dispensers. It comes out as a thin foam but works.
    Soapnuts are from the soap berry tree originating in China I believe.
    Everything else is baking soda/castile soap… vinegar.
    Oh and I use the soapnuts for laundry.
    They are very strong to use on sensitive body parts!

  3. Diane MacEachern July 30, 2008 at 10:36 am #

    Interesting. I just tried some soapnuts and they seemed to work fine. Do you order yours online, or can you find them where you shop locally?

  4. arduous August 4, 2008 at 2:48 pm #

    Augh! What do you recommend doing at the office? Sigh. I’m totally going to be that girl who brings her own soap to work. I’m already that girl who has her own bowl. And that girl who has her own hand towel. And that girl who doesn’t use her trash can. So I guess who really cares if I cart around a soap … maybe on a rope.

  5. Diane MacEachern August 4, 2008 at 6:19 pm #

    It IS frustrating, isn’t it? Is there any chance your employer would switch to a more eco-friendly soap line? It’s worth asking. Rather than have soap on a rope, could you use a refillable pump dispenser, which might be easier to take back and forth? Anybody else have any ideas?

  6. Rachel Markel August 24, 2008 at 8:48 pm #

    I have been making my own products for the past 15 years for the obvious reasons mentioned here. My husband and I visited our local CVS the other night across from the University of Miami, an educated, metropolitan area. Out of curiosity we challenged each other to find a chemical and fragrance free soap or shampoo. Needless to say we were not successful.

  7. Diane MacEachern August 27, 2008 at 11:11 am #

    Jennifer, Thanks for writing. Based on what’s happening in the marketplace, many people are starting to buy alternatives. We haven’t hit the tipping point yet, but I’m optimistic we’re getting close. Rachel, I’d love to have you share some of the products you’ve been making with others who read this blog.

  8. john September 10, 2009 at 10:58 pm #

    how about the positive effects and studies about bubble bath soaps?? Can you send me the answers
    as soon as possible.. Thank you..

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  11. Herbolution March 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    Thank you for the great article! I just tweet it 🙂

  12. Diane macEachern March 8, 2010 at 4:07 am #

    Thank you. I’m glad you found it useful!

  13. Steve March 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    Great post. I also found a good non toxic cleaner you might be interested in. Check it out if you like.

  14. Treadmill Comparison May 4, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    I can believe that there are some not so nice things in the products we use everyday. It would be nice if everything we used were made a little more naturally, rather than manufactured.

  15. Mike October 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    I like how a lot of greener products have safe chemicals for the most part then you find out it has one chemical which is extremely toxic. If you want safe soaps use baking soda and home made soaps.

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