triclosan and antibacterial backlash

EPA OKs Chemicals in Your Underpants

The pesticide tricolosan approved for use in everything from toothpaste to clothing.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reregistered triclosan, an antibacterial chemical that’s regulated as a pesticide, allowing its continued use in consumer products.

THE DETAILS: Triclosan was originally used in medical settings, but it has since seeped into the blood, urine, and breast milk of almost all of us, thanks to its inclusion in thousands of everyday items. The chemical is found in many antibacterial soaps, some toothpastes, and many personal-care products, but it’s also impregnated as a preservative in products that make germ-killing, deodorizing, “antimicrobial” claims. Those include countertops, toothbrushes, blankets, rugs, shoes, plastic toys, tents, brooms, garbage cans, undergarments, and a whole host of other items.

When it finds its way into the environment, triclosan can wreak havoc: It triggers estrogen production that turns male frogs into females, and it’s toxic to algae and phytoplankton. When exposed to sunlight, triclosan can degrade into the cancer-causing chemical dioxin. And overuse of the chemical could result in microorganisms that are resistant to antibiotics.

WHAT IT MEANS: Our fear of germs, which motivates us to buy antibiotic versions of everything, could quite possibly backfire by producing microbes that are extra-hard to kill.

Here are some ways to avoid triclosan while taking appropriate action against germs:

Published on: December 17, 2008
Updated on: May 13, 2010

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