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Is Triclosan a Wash?

by Josh Vincent — last modified Apr 01, 2011 01:50 PM

Information on the popular anti-bacterial agent, triclosan and the citizen petition to remove it from consumer products.

The last decade saw an explosion in popular anti-bacterial consumer products. Everything from personal hygiene items like soaps and deodorants, to home cleaning sprays, wipes and towelettes. For many of these anti-bacterials, one chemical has been the go-to active ingredient: triclosan.

Triclosan is a pesticide that has been used since the 1970s at low concentrations to target bacteria. 1 To summarize, it works by preventing bacteria from producing essential fatty acids...or at least it used to. Resistant strains of bacteria are now emerging all over the place, calling any benefits of triclosan laden products into question. At least one study has shown that soap and water are just as effective at preventing bacterial borne disease.2

More than for its ability to control bacteria, triclosan is now under review because of a growing body of evidence showing its harmful impact on the environment at large. Due to its proliferation in soaps and other hygiene products, much triclosan ends up in rivers and other water bodies where it is toxic to unresistant bacteria and diatom algae.3 This can impact aquatic life all the way up the food chain. Triclosan has also been identified as an endocrine disruptor and may be responsible for observed hermaphroditic effects in frogs and fish. 4

Finally, its presence in surface waters results in the creation of dioxins when exposed to sunlight.

Say No to Triclosan

Tell EPA to get triclosan out of consumer products. The agency extended its comment period (we now have until April 7th), so please add your voice today!

EPA is now reviewing a citizen petition, filed last year by our friends at Beyond Pesticides, to pull these uses of the pesticide. Pesticide Action Network and more than 80 other health and environmental groups across the country have added names to the citizen petition.

Voice your support today 

1.  Record in the Household Products Database of NLM

2. Aiello, A. E., Larson, E. L., and Levy, S. B. 2007. Consumer antibacterial soaps: effective or just risky? Clin Infect Dis. 45(2):137-47.

3. Ricart M, Guasch H, Alberch M, et al. (November 2010). "Triclosan persistence through wastewater treatment plants and its potential toxic effects on river biofilms". Aquat. Toxicol. 100 (4): 346–53. 

4. Nik Veldhoen, Rachel C. Skirrow, Heather Osachoff, Heidi Wigmore, David J. Clapson, Mark P. Gunderson, Graham Van Aggelen and Caren C. Helbing (December 2006). "The bactericidal agent triclosan modulates thyroid hormone-associated gene expression and disrupts postembryonic anuran development". Aquatic Toxicology 80 (3): 217–227.