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Pesticide-free soap — finally!

Kristin Schafer's picture
Kristin Schafer
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Child washing handsAt long last, the writing is on the wall for triclosan. FDA is still finalizing their review of the “anti-microbial” pesticide, but according to the New York Times, companies are already starting to pull it out of their hand soaps, face washes and baby toys.

It's so very nice to see common sense prevail! Of course it has taken, um, nearly 40 years.

No, really. FDA first flagged concerns about triclosan in consumer products back in 1972. In 1978, they proposed banning the pesticide from hospital scrubs and hand soaps within a couple of years, but for some reason, nothing was done. The same thing happened again nearly 20 years later, in 1994.

Consumers want soap that's safe

This time around, market pressure is beating regulators to the punch. It turns out consumers don't want a chemical in our soap that disrupts hormones and messes with our immune systems, thyroid function and (for the males among us) sperm production.

Especially when studies show that washing up with plain old soap and water prevents disease just as well. 

This final round of concern flared up a few years back when the Centers for Disease Control measured traces of triclosan in the bodies of 3 out of 4 Americans over age five. With such widespread exposure, public health officials started taking another look at possible effects, and found “valid concerns about the effect of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients.”

Studies show that washing with plain old soap & water prevents disease just as well.

This got politicians into the act. Last year, Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) asked FDA to get back to work on those regulations they started nearly 40 years ago. He also called for banning triclosan in products that touch food, hand soaps, and things marketed to children.

Then public interest lawyers at Natural Resource Defense Council filed a lawsuit last year as well, also pressing FDA to finish the job on triclosan.

Decisive action to protect public health! 40 years later...

EPA did their own review this past spring, and outraged consumers around the country (including thousands of PAN supporters) weighed in with concerns about triclosan.

In addition to the health effects mentioned above, commenters highlighted evidence that such widespread use of the pesticide undermines the effectiveness of antibiotics, as bacteria morph to develop resistance.

So four decades after identifying its potential danger, and after some companies have already begun to pull the pesticide themselves, it looks like regulators might actually put the official brakes on triclosan. Look for FDA action on the pesticide sometime in the coming months.

Better late than never I guess, though wouldn't it have been nice if they finished the job 40 years ago? That way most of us — including our kids — wouldn't be carrying this hormone-disrupting pesticide around in our bodies every day.

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