FDA finally takes up issue of germ-killing ingredient in soaps

2013-05-03T00:00:00Z FDA finally takes up issue of germ-killing ingredient in soapsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - It's a chemical that's been in U.S. households for more than 40 years, from the body wash in your bathroom shower to the knives on your kitchen counter to the bedding in your baby's bassinet.

But federal health regulators are just now deciding whether triclosan - the germ-killing ingredient found in an estimated 75 percent of antibacterial liquid soaps and body washes sold in the U.S. - is ineffective, or worse, harmful.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to deliver a review this year of whether triclosan is safe. The ruling, which will determine whether triclosan continues to be used in household cleaners, could have implications for a $1 billion industry that includes hundreds of antibacterial products from toothpaste to toys.

The agency's review comes amid growing pressure from lawmakers, consumer advocates and others who are concerned about the safety of triclosan. Recent studies of triclosan in animals have led scientists to worry that it could increase the risk of infertility, early puberty and other hormone-related problems in humans.

"To me it looks like the risks outweigh any benefit associated with these products right now," said Allison Aiello, professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. "At this point, it's just looking like a superfluous chemical."

The concerns over triclosan offer a sobering glimpse at a little-known fact: Many chemicals used in everyday household products have never been formally approved by U.S. health regulators. That's because many germ-killing chemicals were developed decades ago before there were laws requiring review of cleaning ingredients.

The controversy also highlights how long it can take the federal government to review such chemicals.

In the case of triclosan, Congress passed a law in 1972 requiring that the FDA set guidelines for dozens of common antibacterial chemicals found in over-the-counter soaps and scrubs. The guidelines function like a cookbook for manufacturers, detailing which chemicals can be used in what products, and in what amounts.

The FDA published several drafts of the guidelines over the years, but the agency never finalized the results. So, companies have not had to remove triclosan from their products.

Now, four decades after it was charged with reviewing triclosan, the FDA is planning to complete its review.FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao said evaluating triclosan and other antibacterial agents is "one of the highest priorities" for the agency.

U.S. scientists agree that the FDA's review is overdue. The Endocrine Society, a group of doctors and scientists who specialize in the hormone system, flagged triclosan four years ago as an ingredient that alters levels of thyroid hormones and reproductive hormones like testosterone and estrogen.

"To me it looks like the risks outweigh any benefit associated with these products right now."

Allison Aiello, professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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