Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What's the Deal with Antibacterial Soap?

Since 2000, around 1500 products have hit store shelves containing the antibacterial agents triclocarban and triclosan, reported the LA Times last month. Marketed as a way to get your hands cleaner and protect yourself from getting sick, you may be disappointed by the latest findings.

According to experts, antibacterial products are no more effective than plain old soap and they may be doing harm to the environment.

Back in October of last year, an FDA panel found that, "mass-marketed antiseptics have shown no evidence of preventing infections more effectively than hand washing with regular soap,"
reported WebMD.

So what's the problem? People have a right to buy snake oil and manufacturers have a right to get rich off of it. Fine. But as the LA Times reported last month, almost 75 percent of the microbe-killing compounds in antibacterial soap, which consumers wash down their drains, makes it through sewage treatment plants and into the earth.

In total, 200 tons of the compounds triclocarban and ticlosan are dumped into the environment each year, reported the Times. And this has concerned some experts. According to the Times article, experts fear, "widespread use of such products may be helping turn some dangerous germs into 'superbugs' resistant to antibiotics."

While monster microbes have yet to rise out of the sludge taken from sewage treatment plants and spread across fields, WebMD explains that experts don't see the point of risking it. While "the risk of resistant bacteria is theoretical," read the WebMD report, "the potential risk of resistance may not be worth continued mass marketing of soaps that have no proven benefit to consumers."

There are other potential risks associated with antibacterial soaps. For example, "triclosan can react with chlorine and turn into chloroform and dioxins linked to cancer," and "the chemicals also might kill microbes beneficial to ecosystems," according to the LA Times.

For the record, billions of pounds of sludge, the solid waste that comes out of sewage treatment plants, is produced each year. That's 47 pounds for every man, woman and child in this country.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.