So how safe is that super-duper toothpaste that fights bad breath you used this morning or that bacteria-resistant cutting board you brought home from the fancy kitchen store this weekend?
Washing with plain soap and water may still be the way to go.
Washing with plain soap and water may still be the way to go. iStockphoto.com
If these products contain triclosan, they're probably OK. But the government just announced it's giving the ubiquitous chemical additive another look.
Triclosan, a 30-year-old antimicrobial agent, seems to be everywhere. The chemical is an ingredient in a growing list of products, including toys, latex paint, clothing, soaps, and cosmetics, to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi and mildew.
But it was recently found somewhere less welcome: In the urine of 75 percent of us, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The urine study, plus recent research showing potential hormone disruption in animals, has regulators reevaluating triclosan's presence in so many products, the Washington Post reports.
Environmentalists have been on the triclosan warpath for a while, warning of potential threats to health and potential antimicrobial resistance. Several groups filed a petition last July, asking the Food and Drug Administration to take it off the market. The agency has so far declined to do so, but is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to review the new data and plans to release new recommendations by next year.
As with all chemicals, the government is trying to determine whether there's a hazard, and what the magnitude of the risk might be. The Obama administration appears to be taking these chemicals seriously — last month, it announced it would take a closer look at a common chemical in hard plastics — BPA.
So far, FDA says, triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans and isn't recommending that consumers stop using products containing the ingredient.
However, the agency also notes that triclosan added to soaps and body washes doesn't provide any additional health benefits over using plain old soap and water. As we (and Grandma) have mentioned before, it's hard to beat a good scrubbing in the sink.
UPDATE: Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Ed Markey, whose January letter to FDA many credit with getting the agency to take another look, is calling on the government to ban the use of the ingredient for several applications. Markey says it shouldn't be in soaps, hand-washes, products intended to be used by kids, and products that are supposed to touch food.