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Triclosan: What It Is, How It’s Used, & Why You Should Avoid It

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Definition:

Triclosan, which is a chlorinated aromatic compound, is an antibacterial and bacteriocidal agent used in a wide array of consumer goods, such as cleaning products, cosmetic products, furniture, and textiles, to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew.

Other Names for Triclosan

Trade names: Ultra-Fresh, Irgasan, Irgacare, Viv-20, and Microban. (Note: Biofresh and Amicor are other trade names, but they are used for fabrics).

Chemical name: 5-Chloro-2-(2,4- dichlorophenoxy)phenol

Molecular formula: C12H7Cl3O2

Use in Cleaning Products

The number of products that this chemical is used in seems only to be limited by the imagination of manufacturers! Here are some cleaning products, tools, and supplies you may find it in: antibacterial hand soaps, dishwashing liquids, laundry soaps, fabric softeners, disinfectants, mop heads, brooms, vacuums, sponges, trash bags, kitchen wipes, dishpans, dish racks, and sink mats. It's also used in textiles, so it may very well be found in kitchen dish towels and cleaning cloths that have built-in antibacterial protection.

This chemical belongs nowhere in a product that is supposed to be "green" due to questions regarding its safety and potentially devastating effects upon aquatic systems. So if you see products that claim to be eco-friendly and antibacterial, take a good hard look at the label. If the antibacterial claims in cleaning products aren't based upon natural ingredients like essential oils, for example, suspect Triclosan. Look for the trade names on the label or request the MSDS from the manufacturer to be sure.

Other Uses

Triclosan is also found in several other products, such as deodorants, cosmetics, toothpaste, toothbrushes, crib mattresses, carpet underlayments, clothing, toys, and paint, to name just a few.

Regulation

Triclosan is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when its use is considered a pesticide and by the FDA for other purposes. In light of new research and data, the EPA is scheduling another review of Triclosan in 2013. The FDA also states in its consumer update article, "Triclosan: What Consumers Should Know," that it is collaborating with the EPA and reviewing Triclosan's safety, too.

Health & Safety

This use of this prevalent chemical has been greatly questioned and researched due to health concerns. It has been found to be present in the urine of almost 75% of over 2,500 urine samples collected as part of the 2003–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) according to a 2007 study. There are concerns that it's widespread use may contribute to antibiotic resistance as noted in a 2010 article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. It has also been found to increase allergic sensitization to food and airborne allergens as shown in a 2012 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. To top it off, the EPA notes in its article "Triclosan Facts" that since its 2008 assessment of Triclosan new data has warranted more research due to thyroid and estrogen effects.

Environmental Effects

Triclosan, which is toxic to fish and other aquatic animals, is suspected to potentially bioaccumulate in aquatic environments according to the EPA. This definitely seems to be the case as a 2002 study published in Environmental Science and Technology states Triclosan was in the top seven of contaminants found in water samples taken from a total of 139 streams across 30 states by the U.S. Geological Survey. Also, a 2011 study published in Chemosphere notes that Triclosan can react with chlorine in wastewater treatment plants to form chlorinated triclosan derivatives (CTDs) which when dumped into natural waters and exposed to sunlight can form dioxins, toxic chemical compounds that cause major health issues, such as cancer. Seeing this is the case, it doesn't seem to be a good chemical to keep putting in cleaning products that get rinsed down the drain into our water systems, does it?

Green Alternatives

Studies have shown that washing with plain soap is just as effective as antibacterial soaps containing Triclosan in removing bacteria, so there really is no need to have this chemical in hand soaps or other cleaning products, for that matter. Other eco-friendly ingredients, such as essential oils, have natural antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties and can easily take the place of Triclosan in cleaning products.

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