Antibacterial Hand Soap Chemical—and Bacterial Resistance—Increasing in Our Waterways
With more than seven billion people on Earth, it’s increasingly hard to ignore mankind’s effects on global ecosystems. Actions have consequences, and our numbers ensure that unintended consequences are magnified a billion-fold or more.
Examples abound. Endocrine-disrupting synthetic chemicals are now found as far north as the Arctic circle, in animals, plants, water and soil. Highly toxic organic mercury (unleashed by burning coal for energy) is polluting our oceans and waterways, working its way into the food chain and coming back to bite us by threatening the health of anyone who eats otherwise healthful seafood. Lead contamination continues to haunt us, affecting the poor disproportionately, even decades after this deadly toxin was removed from common use. Concern about the possible biological effects of electromagnetic pollution are growing, even as we spin an unprecedented web of powerful EM fields around the globe.
Now there’s growing evidence that another man-made crisis may be looming, due to the overuse of a common antibacterial agent, triclosan. Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial chemical used in numerous consumer products. Not least of these are the ubiquitous antibacterial hand soaps crowding supermarket shelves. But triclosan also shows up in products like deodorants, toothpastes, cleaning products and mouthwash. It’s even used in garbage bags. That’s right: what’s good enough to put in your mouth, is good enough for trash bags.
There are two problems with this enthusiastic overuse of triclosan: According to the FDA there is no evidence that it provides any extra benefits to health when used in personal care products. In other words, there’s NO REASON to choose antibacterial soap over ordinary soap. Meanwhile, triclosan is showing up in our waterways, and scientists who study the health of these natural ecosystems worry that it’s affecting microbial and algae populations in unpredictable—and unnatural—ways. At the very least, these unnecessary chemicals may be encouraging bacterial resistance. And that, like lead or mercury, may eventually come back to haunt us.
Drury B, Scott J, Rosi-Marshall EJ, Kelly JJ. Triclosan exposure increases triclosan resistance and influences taxonomic composition of benthic bacterial communities. Environ Sci Technol. 2013 Aug 6;47(15):8923-30. doi: 10.1021/es401919k. Epub 2013 Jul 25.