European Regulators Reconsider Triclosan

The EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) just published its opinion on the link between <"">triclosan and antimicrobial resistance. Triclosan is a biocide used in many products, including cosmetics.

The Committee said it is not possible to define the risk with triclosan—including in cosmetics—regarding antimicrobial resistance, genetic paths for resistance, and dissemination of resistance; however, it noted that environmental concentrations of triclosan have been found that are sufficiently high to suggest that bacterial resistance could be triggered.

Triclosan is a chemical used as an antibacterial in soaps, hand sanitizers, and other household products and has been linked to serious, long-term effects on human health and the environment. Triclosan has also been shown in animal studies to disrupt the endocrine system. Some research has indicated that triclosan might help to create antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Triclosan is banned or restricted in other countries, including the European Union. Just recently, the European Union banned the chemical from any products that come into contact with food.

In the U.S., however, regulatory agencies have failed to act on this serious public health threat. In 2005, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that antimicrobial soaps and sanitizers do not reduce the risk of illness and infection in the home, yet products made with triclosan remain on the market.

Triclosan was developed as a surgical scrub for medical professionals. But in recent years, has been added to everything from soaps to clothing because of its antibacterial properties. Triclosan is so ubiquitous that it is found in the urine of 75 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The chemical has also been found in about 60 percent of U.S. streams.

Triclosan is a chlorophenol, a class of chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans. While the companies that manufacture products containing triclosan claim it is safe, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered it as a pesticide, giving it high scores both as a human health risk and as an environmental risk.

Triclosan may be cancer causing by itself and/or in combination with other substances. In combination with water, it can produce chloroform gas that, when inhaled, can cause liver problems, depression, and cancer. It is that sunlight can naturally transform triclosan to dioxin.

In the U.S., triclosan is regulated by the FDA, as well as the EPA and the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). The FDA has been working for 38 years to establish the rules for the use of triclosan, but has yet to do so.

We recently wrote that Representative Edward J. Markey (Democrat-Massachusetts), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, is pushing for a ban on triclosan. This following the FDA’s acknowledgement to him that it was worried about the possible health risks associated with triclosan.

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