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Scientists Call for Increased Limited Use of Antimicrobial Chemicals

JUL 03, 2017 | EINAV KEET
Following a ruling by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this year, limiting the way manufacturers can market over-the-counter antibacterial soaps, a group of more than 200 scientists recently released a statement calling for further limits on the use of antimicrobial ingredients such as triclosan and triclocarban.
Used in recent years in soaps, body washes, detergents and a host of other consumer products labeled as “antibacterial”, triclosan works against harmful bacteria by targeting them and inhibiting their ability to reproduce. Following mounting questions from the scientific community on the effectiveness and environmental safety of the ingredient and others like it, in 2013 the FDA proposed limiting the marketing of over-the-counter soaps containing triclosan as antibacterial unless manufacturers could prove their safety and show that they are more effective at stopping germs than plain soap and water. After manufacturers failed to do so, the FDA ruled that liquid, bar, or foam hand soaps, as well as body washes, containing at least 1 of the 19 antimicrobial ingredients in question could no longer be marketed. In anticipation of the FDA’s ruling, many manufacturers of such antibacterial washes began to phase out the use of those ingredients. The rule does not apply to hand sanitizers, wipes, or antibacterial products for healthcare settings.
In a recent statement signed by more than 200 scientists, doctors, and environmental researchers from around the world and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the signatories call on the international community to go further in limiting the use of antimicrobial ingredients. Authors of the statement, “The Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban,” point out that despite the use of these chemicals in thousands of products, manufacturers have done little to prove their benefits. They go on to cite a list of studies that show the environmental and health hazards of the ingredients, and list 10 reasons why the group is concerned about the ongoing widespread use of triclosan and similar antimicrobials. “The consensus statement is an important step toward creating a more sustainable and healthier planet,” Rolf Halden, PhD, lead author of the statement told Contagion®. “Chemical pollution and associated diseases do not observe national boundaries, and so working together globally toward a healthier future is imperative.”
Among the list of reasons the statement’s authors want to see more limits on the use of triclosan and triclocarban are a lack of evidence on their effectiveness, evidence of their contribution to the problem of antibiotic resistance, evidence of their endocrine-disrupting effects on animals, detrimental effects on aquatic organisms, and their long-term persistence in the environment, where the antimicrobials are a source of toxic and carcinogenic compounds such as dioxin.
“Research shows that antimicrobials used as far back as the 1960s are still present in the environment, for example in freshwater and coastal sediments,” said Dr. Halden. Such persistence, note the authors in the statement, has made triclosan and its byproducts bioaccumulate in the environment. They also appear in human blood and breast milk. “Completely cleansing the planet from antimicrobials used in the past will take several decades at a minimum and potentially much longer than that.”
As the authors call on scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers to avoid the use of triclosan and triclocarban, they offer a framework for moving forward with these and other antibacterial ingredients. “Because antimicrobials can have unintended adverse health and environmental impacts, they should only be used when they provide an evidence-based health benefit,” the authors write. “Greater transparency is needed in product formulations, and before an antimicrobial is incorporated into a product, the long-term health and ecological impacts should be evaluated.”
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