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Avoid dangerous antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, scientists warn

June 20, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Scientists are warning consumers to avoid products with antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan, an ingredient used in soaps, toothpaste — including Colgate Total — and countless other products. Photo by Mary Frost
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Many people look for the words “antibacterial” in hand sanitizer, soaps and toothpaste, but on Tuesday hundreds of scientists and health professionals warned that products containing antimicrobials like triclosan can be dangerous and should be avoided.

Dr. Laura Geer, associate professor and chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, said in a statement that antimicrobial substances added to common household products can potentially disrupt the human endocrine system and are known to linger in the environment. On top of that, antibacterial soaps work no better than plain soap and water.

Geer was one of many experts who signed onto the “Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban,” published on Tuesday in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Triclosan, triclocarban and more than a dozen other antimicrobial chemicals are used in thousands of personal care and consumer products as well as in building materials. In response to a lawsuit by National Resources Defense Council, in September 2016 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that these antimicrobials can no longer be used in consumer soaps due to a lack of evidence that they are effective and safe.

But Geer and other experts say FDA’s decision does not go far enough. Triclosan and triclocarban are used in hundreds of other products, and have often been replaced with equally dangerous substitutes.

“The biggest contributor to human exposure is through use of personal care products — soaps, toothpastes, lotions, etc. — that contain triclosan or triclocarban,” Geer told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“In most products where they have been added, triclosan and triclocarban have not been shown to provide benefit — e.g. hand soaps,” she said. “Antimicrobial products should only be used when they provide an evidence-based health benefit, such as in prescribed toothpastes.”

Geer said that Colgate Total toothpaste still contains triclosan.

“Unless you have been prescribed by your physician to use a toothpaste with triclosan, you should elect to use a different toothpaste … for yourself and your children,” she warned.

Geer added that many other personal care products, such as aftershaves and deodorants, may also contain triclosan and triclocarban.

She advised that you can generally avoid the chemicals by avoiding products that are advertised as “antimicrobial” or “antibacterial.”

This also applies to unexpected uses like children’s school supplies, items like cutting boards for the kitchen, building supplies and many other uses.

“Beyond personal care products, in most cases these chemicals will not be listed on the product label, which is why the Florence Statement recommends improved product labeling. Without clear labeling, consumers cannot make informed choices,” Geer said.

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The Florence Statement can be found at https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ehp1788.

Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) provides a tool that can be used to identify cleaning products that are likely to contain triclosan, triclocarban or other antimicrobials.

 


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