Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 6, 2013. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced on March 3 that state agencies have been ordered by Governor Mark Dayton to stop buying products that contain triclosan, a synthetic, broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent that has become ubiquitous in consumer products ranging from face-washes to fabrics. This ban, which will go into effect in June, comes as the debate over the efficacy and necessity of triclosan intensifies in the Minnesota State legislature. A bill banning triclosan’s use outside of medical settings is expected to be introduced this week, and the legislature conducted a hearing Tuesday on the possible human health and environmental consequences of the chemical.
The state government, about 100 school districts, and local governments together currently buy about $1 million worth of cleaning products annually through joint purchasing contracts. Many of these products contain triclosan, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded in 2010 that products containing triclosan are no more effective than plain old-fashioned soap and water.
“There are alternatives, and they are at the same price,” said Cathy Moeger, sustainability manager for the Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency. “If it has an environmental benefit, why not do it?”
Triclosan has been used for over 30 years in the United States. Its original uses were confined mostly to health care settings, as it was first introduced in the health care industry as a surgical scrub in 1972. Over the last decade, there has been a rapid increase in the use of triclosan-containing products. A marketplace study in 2000 by Eli Perencevich, M.D. and colleagues found that over 75% of liquid soaps and nearly 30% of bar soaps (45% of all the soaps on the market) contained some type of anti- bacterial agent. Triclosan was the most common agent found, and was discovered in nearly half of all commercial soaps. Other studies have found that due to its extensive use in consumer goods, triclosan and its metabolites are present in umbilical cord blood and human breast milk. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found triclosan to be present in the urine of 75% of the U.S. population, with concentrations that have increased by 50% since 2004.
There have also been concerns related to triclosan’s link to dioxin. Dioxin can be highly carcinogenic and can cause health problems as severe as weakening of the immune system, decreased fertility, altered sex hormones, miscarriage, birth defects, and cancer. Because of the chemical structure as a polychlorophenoxy phenol, it is possible that dioxin can be found in triclosan from synthesis impurities. In addition to being formed during the manufacturing process, dioxin may also be formed upon incineration of triclosan.
Through several studies, triclosan has been shown to be harmful to human environmental health. Researchers from the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) and the University of Colorado found that the chemical impairs muscle function in fish and mice and stated that the results they found show “strong evidence that triclosan could have effects on animal and human health at current levels of exposure.” Issac Passah, Ph.D., co-author of the muscle function study and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences at UC Davis will be speaking at Beyond Pesticides’ 31st National Pesticide Forum. The forum takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico and runs from Friday, April 5th to Saturday the 6th. Triclosan can alter thyroid function and is an endocrine disruptor which has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones and possibly fetal development.
These policy changes in Minnesota come after a recent study that shows triclosan toxicants are accumulating in the bottom of lakes and rivers in Minnesota. Scientists tested eight sediment samples from freshwater lakes across Minnesota, including Lake Superior.
Bill Arnold, Ph.D., co-author of the study and professor at University of Minnesota notes, “We found that in all the lakes there’s triclosan in the sediment, and in general, the concentration increased from when triclosan was invented in 1964 to present day. And we also found there are seven other compounds that are derivatives or degradation products of triclosan that are also in the sediment an also increasing in concentration with time.”
Some of the breakdown products that scientists discovered were polychlorodibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), a group of chemicals known to be toxic to both humans and wildlife.
All of the lakes tested are end routes for wastewater treatment plants. Researchers explain that triclosan undergoes a chemical reaction in treatment plants during the last stage of the purification process, when chlorine is mixed with wastewater.
Dr. Arnold continues, “Triclosan goes through the wastewater treatment system, and the wastewater treatment plant actually does a pretty darn good job of removing it. 90 to 95 percent of it is taken out, but we use so much triclosan that the rest of it gets through, and three of the compounds we found are chlorinated triclosan derivatives, and they’re formed in the last step of wastewater treatment, when the wastewater is disinfected before it’s discharged and the disinfectant is chlorine. So that creates these three new compounds. And then triclosan and these three new compounds, when they’re exposed to sunlight, each of them undergoes a reaction that forms a dioxin, so that’s where the other four compounds come from.”
Dr. Arnold notes that triclosan and its breakdown contaminants have the potential to build up in the ocean, as well as in freshwater lakes. University of Minnesota’s research follows a 2010 study that showed triclosan’s potential to disrupt aquatic ecosystems by inhibiting photosynthesis in algae and killing beneficial bacteria.
This push for policy change is also coming from solid grassroots activist work by groups like Friends of the Mississippi River. Trevor Russell, watershed program manager for Friends of the Mississippi River, said the decision, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, sends an important signal.
“When the [state] steps up and says we are going to stop using, it builds public support,” he said.
Beyond Pesticides urges concerned consumers to join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today. Read the label of personal care products in order to avoid those containing triclosan. Encourage your local schools, government agencies, and local businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free. Urge your municipality, school, or company to adopt the model resolution which commits to not procuring or using products containing triclosan.
To learn more about triclosan please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Antibacterial page.