WASHINGTON (April 8, 2010) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledged today the antibacterial chemical triclosan is no more effective than regular soap and water at preventing infections. The agency also expressed concern about the development of antibiotic resistance from using antibacterial products and triclosan’s potential long-term health effects. Today's announcement stems from correspondence earlier this year between the agency and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
“It’s about time FDA has finally stated its concerns about antibacterial chemicals like triclosan,” said Sarah Janssen, a medical doctor and staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The public deserves to know that these so-called antibacterial products are no more effective in preventing infections than regular soap and water and may, in fact, be dangerous to their health in the long run.”
According to the FDA, the majority of consumer soaps contain the chemicals triclosan or triclocarban. These chemicals are also found in some body washes, shaving creams, powders, makeup, toothpastes and other products. Animal studies have shown that both of these chemicals can interfere with hormones critical for normal development and function of the brain and reproductive system. Such interference could result in altered behavior, learning disabilities or infertility.
Triclocarban is particularly concerning because it has been shown to artificially amplify the effects of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, which could promote the growth of breast and prostate cancers, according to health experts at NRDC.
“It took three decades to get us here, but at least the FDA has finally taken a step in the right direction,” said Mae Wu, an NRDC attorney in Washington, D.C. “Now it needs to take the next important step and remove triclosan and triclocarban from consumer products. Let's hope it doesn't take the agency another 30 years to do it.”
FDA first proposed a rule that would have removed these chemicals from soaps in 1978. Until this rule is finalized, these chemicals are allowed to be widely used with no regulatory oversight. The growing use of triclosan in products has led to widespread residues in the environment and in people; nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population carries residues of this hormone-disrupting chemical in their bodies.
FDA has said it will be moving forward on additional regulatory action in the future. Markey also has made a number of strong recommendations including a ban on triclosan in personal care products. NRDC supports this recommendation and also wants triclocarban to be banned from personal care products because of its similar widespread use, lack of effectiveness and concerns for hormone disrupting effects.