It's hard to avoid it. Antibacterial soap is everywhere. Triclosan is an ingredient in many things. And it is wreaking havoc on sewage treatment systems.
Triclosan has been around a while. It first hit the market in 1972 and was used by hospitals. The last decade has seen an explosion of triclosan use in antibacterial hand and dish soaps, anti-acne face wash, and even things like lip gloss and other cosmetics, gym clothes, toothpaste, bedding, and cooking utensils.
The Inquisitr has brought news of many of the issues with triclosan that have surfaced in recent years: decrease in muscle strength, found in breastmilk with potential to harm nursing babies, and hormonal and endocrine disruption, including thyroid. Minnesota has banned the drug, and triclosan's safety has being called into question by the FDA. Triclosan has also been implicated in increasing antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Now Science News and PBS bring news of yet another troubling effect of the widespread use of triclosan: it is finding its way into sewage treatment systems and causing major problems. Science News reports:
"In wastewater treatment plants, the omnipresent antimicrobial can sabotage some sludge-processing microbes and promote drug resistance in others."
Bacteria are a necessary component of sewage treatment, because they break down solid wastes into more manageable materials, according to PBS. Communities of microbes work on organic waste material "to produce small molecules like ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methane (which can be burned as a fuel)." These bacteria digest the larger matter, leaving behind smaller amounts of indigestible material, which is much more manageable.
But the rampant use of triclosan is decimating those good bacteria communities, with far-reaching ramifications.
Just as the human body needs good bacteria to keep down things like candida (yeast), the ecosystem needs bacteria and scavengers to break down waste materials. Antibacterials like triclosan kill indiscriminately, allowing the proliferation of those things that the good bacteria are designed to manage.
Experts say that all of the anti-bacterial soaps, including those containing triclosan, are not really any more effective than simple handwashing with soap and running water. Megan Charles of The Inquisitr writes:
"The action of agitation with regular soap is the key to proper hand washing. Most people just fail to adequately take the time to suitably wash their hands."And some don't even bother to wash their hands at all. Even in hospitals. It was in the mid 1800s that Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis made the discovery that it was doctors who were causing the deaths of millions of mothers from puerperal (childbed) fever because they weren't washing their hands as they went from dissecting cadavers to delivering babies (not those "dangerous, uneducated midwives" as some would have us believe). Yet after all of these years, reports regularly surface of medical personnel who fail to wash their hands in the hospitals. Triclosan isn't what helps there. It's the running water and simple act of washing hands.
Triclosan is a drug. It says so on the back label of the antibiotic soap bottles. Yet, many schools compel schoolchildren to use triclosan, even though those same children would face stiff penalties, including suspension, if their mom sent them to school with a cough drop or Tylenol. It begs the question, why are schools allowed to give this drug to children without parental notification or permission?
For those who believe that they need some sort of ingredients in their soap to kill more germs, Thieves essential oil soap is a wonderful alternative. The name "Thieves" is derived from the fact-based legend that a group of thieves, who were spice merchants, were busily robbing things from the bodies and homes of people who died from the Black Plague. But they weren't dying. When they were captured and questioned as to why they were still alive and healthy, they gave up their secret of several essential oils that they used to protect them.
Science has now confirmed that these essential oils, including cinnamon, eucalyptus, lemon, clove, and rosemary, do have remarkable antibacterial and antiviral properties. Unlike their chemical counter-parts like triclosan, however, these plant-based oils have the ability to distinguish between what needs to be killed and what needs to be allowed to thrive. It's nature's "win/win" scenario.
While the FDA and government officials wrangle over safety data and health concerns of triclosan, including the impact on the environment through its effect on sewage treatment plants, the man or woman on the street can make a difference, just by reading labels and rejecting those things listing "triclosan."
[images via bing]