Minnesota is taking on the superbugs, thanks to a recent bill that prohibits the use of triclosan in retail consumer hygiene products. The bill, signed by Governor Mark Drayton, creates a ban starting in 2017 and gives Minnesota bragging rights as the first U.S. state to address the health and environmental concerns linked to the chemical.
Triclosan is an antimicrobial (or biocidal) chemical that was introduced as a surgical scrub in the early 1970s. Over the last 30 years, it has become a common ingredient in soap, body washes, toothpaste, plastic and fabrics. Arguments over the safety of triclosan for humans rages on but that did not deter Minnesota from realizing its indirect impact on human health and safety.
The state-wide ban was preceded by a policy prohibiting Minnesota government agencies from buying products containing triclosan after University of Minnesota researchers found increasing level of the chemical in sediment in several lakes. The chemical can break down into harmful dioxins that would damage the marine ecosystems.
A recent study published in the American Society for Microbiology found that triclosan is commonly found in the nasal secretions of healthy adults and that the presence of triclosan is linked with nasal colonization by Staphylococcus aureus, a “superbug“ that can cause food poisoning of varying degrees of severity, including death in some cases.
Companies such as Proctor and Gamble are now advertising certain products as triclosan-free and Johnson and Johnson claims it will remove triclosan from all consumer products by 2015. Still, the chemical is used in an estimated 75 percent of anti-bacterial soaps and washes sold in the United States. The concept of triclosan as an anti-bacterial agent is misleading. Its widespread use has created a proving ground for intelligent bacteria to adapt and overcome our best drugs. Triclosan and other antibacterial agents like it are more aptly described as pro-bacterial when we consider the long-term effects of their use.
In December, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a tiny step in the right direction by requiring manufacturers of anti-bacterial hand soaps and body washes to prove that their products are more effective than plain soap and water as well as safe for daily use. If the companies cannot meet these simple criteria, they need to reformulate their products or remove the anti-bacterial claims from the labels. They should be required to remove the chemicals that contribute to superbug development or remove the product from the market.
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