Every time you brush your teeth with Colgate Total, coat your underarms with Arm & Hammer Essentials deodorant, or wash your hands with Dial Complete liquid soap or your dishes with Dawn Ultra, you may be polluting our rivers. These and dozens of other cleaners and cosmetics, along with toothbrushes, socks, underwear, yoga mats, hockey helmets, cutting boards and other items carrying labels like “Biofresh,” “Microban,” and “antimicrobial,” contain triclosan. This powerful chemical kills bacteria but also is the target of growing concern about its harmful effects on human health and the environment.
What is Triclosan?
Triclosan is a chemical that was first introduced into products in the 1970s as an anti-bactrial or anti-fungal agent. Triclosan became a common ingredient in the 1990s when antibacterial hand soaps became popular. As the use of triclosan has increased, evidence has shown that the chemical may interfere with important hormonal processes in wildlife and humans, and it may spur the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Think of it in terms of overusing antibiotics.
One of the problem with triclosan and with other chemicals in pharmaceutical, health and cleaning products used every day is that sending it down the drain means tiny amounts enter the environment. Traces of antidepressants, birth control pills, pain killers and other medicines have been found in treated wastewater samples that appear crystal clear and meet all state and federal quality regulations.
These are the leftovers of drugs that people take every day, but that don’t get fully metabolized. Instead, they pass through with urine, get flushed into sewage treatment systems and emerge in minute quantities at the end of the process. Wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove these compounds. To add, Triclosan is an unnecessary product additive. It washes out of clothing treated with it, and liquid soap with triclosan doesn’t work any better than hot water and soap at getting hands clean and bacteria-free.
It is only over the last 15 years or so that the techniques and equipment needed to detect minute quantities of drugs and consumer chemicals have become available. Now that we can detect these minute quantities, we can understand their effects on the environment. You watch them flush down the drain and they disappear thinking that no harm will come.
Ttriclosan can spur the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, as well as findings that it degrades in the environment into methyltriclosan, “a dioxin-like compound.” Dioxin exposure can cause cancer and immune and developmental disorders, among other effects. Triclosan targets the thyroid system of humans and wildlife. Your thyroid system regulates your body and the potential for human harm is high. There is ample published research showing that exposure to some of these contaminants causes male fish to develop female characteristics, results in changes in fish behavior and affects thyroids in frogs.
How concerned are companies? Johnson & Johnson announced in 2012 that it would stop using triclosan in its products and Proctor & Gamble followed suit, pledging to phase it out by 2014. Also this year, Minnesota became the first state to ban purchases of triclosan-containing products by state agencies.
Did you know you used Triclosan?