By Jon Hood
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says in a lawsuit that that so-called antibacterial soaps contain toxic chemicals that put consumers at risk, and that the Food and Drug Administration has failed to move forward on a decades-old proposal to regulate them.
The suit, filed this week in New York, says that fully 76 percent of hand soaps contain the chemicals triclosan or triclocarbon, a result based on testing of 395 kinds of soap. The complaint also cites a recent study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control that found residues of triclosan in 75 percent of Americans over the age of 6.
The suit accuses the FDA of failing to effectively regulate the chemicals, pointing out that the department proposed banning them from consumers soaps in 1978. Unless and until the 32-year-old rule is finalized, the NRDC says, the chemicals can be widely used with no regulatory oversight.
As a result of the FDA's lengthy delay, consumers remain exposed to triclosan and triclocarban through a variety of over-the-counter drug products, such as antimicrobial hand soaps, that proliferate on the market, the complaint says.
Number of risks
The chemicals can cause a number of undesirable side effects, including damage to reproductive organs and lower levels of sperm and thyroid hormone. The latter can result in a number of additional problems, including reduced intelligence, decreased memory and learning disabilities.
In addition to the risks, the NRDC says that antibacterial soaps are no more effective than the standard variety.
Washing your hands with so-called antibacterial soap containing triclosan or triclocarban actually does nothing different than using regular soap and water, NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass said in a statement. Using soap containing these chemicals does not provide an additional benefit as consumers might think, but instead actually comes with potential health risks.
Indeed, the NRDC says that, in April, the FDA admitted that antibacterial soaps offer no additional protection, and also also expressed concern about the development of antibiotic resistance from using antibacterial products and about triclosans potential long-term health effects.
Antibiotic resistance -- the notion that bacteria find ways around antibacterial soaps by developing into new, more potent strains -- is the subject of ongoing debate. A 2007 study by researchers at the University of Michigan showed such resistance during in-house trials, but that result wasn't replicated in other settings. The study did, however, confirm the notion that standard-issue soap kills just as many germs as its antibacterial counterparts, based on skin testing of 238 families who used both types for a year.
The NRDC says it has twice met with FDA officials about the issue, without success. It asks the court to order the agency to finalize the 1978 regulations within 90 days.