News Feature | June 19, 2014

Anti-Bacterial Agent Banned After Being Linked To Water Contamination

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Triclosan, an anti-bacterial chemical in consumer soap products, was recently banned in Minnesota and might be restricted in other jurisdictions after studies discovered that the substance may be contaminating the state's waterways. 

 "Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill to make Minnesota the first state to prohibit the use of triclosan in most retail consumer hygiene products," the Daily Mail reported. The ban will take effect in January 2017, according to TIME. 

Supporters of the ban say the Minnesota law could influence other states to pass similar legislation. 

"While this is an effort to ban triclosan from one of the 50 states, I think it will have a greater impact than that," said state Sen. John Marty, who sponsored the bill, to the Associated Press.

A University of Minnesota study found last year that triclosan is contaminating the state's water resources. "Researchers studied sediment cores from the bottoms of eight different lakes and found that levels of triclosan and its byproducts increased after its release into the market in the 1970s,” the advocacy group American Rivers reported

"When people use shampoo, toothpaste, or soap that contains triclosan, it gets washed into drains and to our wastewater infrastructure. Treatment plants are unable to remove all of the triclosan [PDF], and as a result, it can end up in our rivers, lakes, and streams that we use for drinking water supplies," the group said.

Minnesota is not alone. The Canadian government is taking action on triclosan, as well. 

"The substance is being assessed under the federal government’s chemical management plan, and steps may be taken to reduce its release into the environment, where it is known to harm freshwater plants and animals, according to the federal department. Government officials have also promised to discuss voluntary reductions in the use of triclosan with industry representatives," the Vancouver Sun reported.

The market may ultimately lead the crackdown on triclosan. Marty, the Minnesota state senator, "said some companies are already catching on that there's no marketing advantage to keeping triclosan in its products. He noted that Procter & Gamble's Crest toothpaste is now marketing itself as triclosan-free," the report said. 

The U.S. federal government is studying the health effects of triclosan. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), triclosan is not currently known to be harmful to humans. Nevertheless, the agency said that as a result of new studies, the question should be revisited. It said animal studies have shown triclosan may alter hormone regulation. 

The EPA's take: "The Agency can reasonably conclude that the antimicrobial uses of triclosan (e.g., triclosan-treated plastic and textile items in households) are unlikely to contribute significant quantities of triclosan into household wastewater and eventually in surface water."

Image credit: "Washing the dishes with soap," peapod labs © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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