When antibacterial dish, body and laundry soaps emerged in the 2000s, they were supposed to get you “better than clean.” They were an example of the “new, improved,” “more cleaning power,” “new fresh scent,” claims that drive consumer product sales.
There was just one problem. The products did not get you “cleaner” than soap and water but they do do a lot else: they encourage antibiotic resistance and “superbugs” and disrupt endocrine systems in humans and animals, just like pesticides.
Now, the FDA has given industry a year to remove the antibiotic agents from the thousands of products they are found in. “Companies will no longer be able to market antibacterial washes with these ingredients because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections,” the FDA said in a statement.
Triclosan, found in Ajax and Palmolive dish detergents and Colgate’s Total toothpaste, breaks down into chloroform with tap water and dioxin in the environment and impairs thyroid function and harbors in human breast milk, urine and blood say experts. Triclosan “has similarities both to thyroid hormone (T4) and to several known endocrine disruptors, including polychlorinated bisphenyls (PCBs), diethylstilbestrol (DES) and bisphenol A (BPA),” says the Breast Cancer Fund. It is a chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbon like DDT or hexachlorophene, banned years ago. Minnesota banned triclosan in 2014; Washington state banned the use of the plastic BPA in baby bottles in 2010.
Endocrine disruptors mimic and interfere with natural hormones and are found in canned foods, microwave popcorn bags, cosmetics, carpet-cleaning solutions, furniture, fire retardants, plastics and even thermal store receipts. The compounds are linked to breast cancer, infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early puberty and diabetes in humans and alarming mutations in wildlife such as intersex fish and amphibians with both male and female characteristics. They are also suspected of playing a role in the epidemic of behavior and learning problems in children which has coincided with wide endocrine disruptors use.
Antibiotic overuse comes from “new and improved” personal care products, over prescribing and also Big Meat which uses the drugs to add weight on animals with less feed. The FDA has made attempts to curtail livestock use but Big Pharma and Big Meat are increasing their use. According to the FDA’s 2014 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, domestic sales and distribution of cephalosporins for food-producing animals increased by 57 percent between 2009 through 2014, lincosamide antibiotics like clindamycin increased by 150 percent and aminoglycoside antibiotics like gentamicin by 36 percent.
Medical professionals increasingly worry about antibiotic resistant bacteria like MRSA, CRE, VRE and even an antibiotic resistant E. coli.
It is shocking the FDA has allowed antibiotics in soaps for so many years despite appeals from scientists, consumer groups, environmental groups and public health officials. Even more shocking is the fact that triclosan will remain in toothpaste because according to the FDA the benefits outweigh the risks. Read your labels.
Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” is distributed by Random House. Rosenberg has appeared on CSPAN and NPR and lectured at medical schools and at the Mid-Manhattan Public Library.