Report Highlights Risk From Antibacterial Chemicals In Clothing

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 21, 2011.  The Swedish Chemicals Agency (Kemi) has published an analysis of the antibacterial chemicals triclosan, triclocarban and silver textile products that finds these antibacterial chemicals to significantly leach out of treated products after washing. In the case of triclosan and triclocarban, about half or more of the original content is washed out after ten washes. The report questions the necessity of antibacterial textiles and highlights concerns about the increasing use of antibacterial products, and the hazards these substances pose to waterways and human health.

The antibacterial treatment is usually marketed and labeled with the stated purpose of preventing odors in textiles. The Swedish Chemicals Agency analyzed 30 textile articles (English summary on page 7), specifically three antibacterial agents incorporated into the fabric, including silver (nanosilver), triclosan, and triclocarban. Concentrations of the antibacterials in fabrics fell after washing. In the case of triclosan and triclocarban, about half or more of the original content was washed out after ten washes. In the case of silver, the original concentration and washed-out content varied to a large extent. After ten washes, 10-98 percent of the silver had been washed out of the textiles. After three washes, half of the silver had been washed out in several textiles.

The report notes that it is remarkable that such a large proportion of added antibacterial chemicals is washed out of textiles and thus enters treatment plants and the environment. The three analyzed chemicals are not degraded at all (silver) or slowly (triclocarban and triclosan) in the environment. Silver in ionic form, triclosan and triclocarban are very toxic to aquatic organisms. Triclocarban in studies demonstrates reproductive properties, and triclosan exhibits endocrine-disrupting properties. Triclosan and its cousin triclocarban have come under fire for their link to many serious human and environmental health threats, including water contamination and an ever increasing body burden expressed in breast milk, urine, and umbilical cord blood. As an endocrine disruptor, triclosan has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones and possibly fetal development, and also shown to alter thyroid function. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has found that triclosan is present in the urine of 75% of the U.S. population, with concentrations that have increased by 42% since 2004. Silver, triclosan, and triclocarban leaching from textiles contaminate the sludge from treatment plants, which then gets recycled as compost for agricultural lands or home gardens.

Studies conducted in 2008 and 2009 show that washing nanosilver textiles releases substantial amounts of the nanosilver into the laundry discharge water, which will ultimately reach natural waterways and potentially poison fish and other aquatic organisms. One study found nanosilver to cause malformations and to be lethal to small fish at various stages of development since they are able to cross the egg membranes and move into the fish embryos.

The recommendations coming from this report further emphasize the importance of efforts to reduce the risks connected with chemicals used in today´s society and particularly the phasing out of hazardous substances in newly produced articles. Above all, consumer articles and articles that may expose children to hazardous substances should be given priority. The report’s authors question whether the function of antibacterial-treated clothing and other textiles is necessary, considering risks that may arise. Also a factor is the difficulty consumers have determining what antibacterial chemicals the clothes contain. It is rarely explicitly declared that clothes are treated with antibacterial agents. However, if the garment is marketed under labels such as “anti-odor,” “treated against bad smell,” “for lasting freshness”, “hygienic protection”, “antimicrobial” etc., there is reason to suspect that they have been treated with an antibacterial substance.

Beyond Pesticides in 2004 began voicing concern about the dangers of the antibacterial pesticide triclosan and in 2009 and 2010 submitted petitions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling for the removal of triclosan from consumer products. Since then, many major companies are quietly and quickly removing triclosan from their products. Colgate-Palmolive, makers of SoftSoap, and GlaxoSmithKline, makers of Aquafresh and Sensodyne toothpastes, have reformulated these products to exclude triclosan, according to media reports. Others, including Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, The Body Shop, and Staples, have started phasing it out of products. Over 10,000 individuals told EPA this spring, via email and docketed comments supporting Beyond Pesticides and Food and Water Watch’s petition, to ban the dangerous antibacterial triclosan. Additionally, scores of public health and advocacy groups, local state departments of health and the environment, as well as municipal and national wastewater treatment agencies submitted comments requesting an end to triclosan in consumer products.

Sources: KEMI Press Release,