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FDA takes on antimicrobial ingredients in household products

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared that soap manufacturers have one year to demonstrate that antimicrobials in consumer products are safe or to remove them from the products largely based on the work of Arizona State University professor Rolf Halden, director of the Center for Environmental Security, that was published in the April 1, 2014, edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The Food and Drug Administration announced that manufacturers of antibacterial hand soap and body wash will be required to prove their products are more effective than plain soap and water.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Halden’s research centers on two chemicals, triclocarban (TCC) and triclosan (TCS), which have been used in soaps and toothpaste since 1957 and 1964, respectively. The same two chemicals now are used in detergents, clothing, carpets, paints, plastics, toys, school supplies, and pacifiers. There are about 2,000 different antimicrobial compounds in use at present.

The accumulation of TCC and TCS in the environment is considered a potential health threat due to the endocrine disruptive effects of the two chemicals on people and animals.

Halden notes that the misuse of antimicrobial soaps by the average consumer lies in the lack of time the soaps are used. Recommended antimicrobial action takes 30 seconds of washing but the average person only washes their hands for six seconds.

Equally important is the volume of waste that antimicrobials produce. TCC and TCS account for about 60 percent of the waste sludge produced in water treatment plants. The two chemicals are not reducible to harmless material by standard treatment methods.

The researchers also note that the increased use of antimicrobial products may add to the rise in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria and that TCC and TCS have been found in the urine of 75 percent of Americans.

The FDA attempted to limit the use of antimicrobials in 1974 with no effect. One might consider the financial weight of soap and detergent manufacturers may play heavily in the debate to ban antimicrobials especially with elections coming soon.

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