Safety of Antibacterial Soap Debated
Researchers See Potential Health Hazards; Manufacturers Say Products Are Safe
The Government's Perspective continued...
The EPA is in the process of re-evaluating triclosan. A draft report
published in the Federal Register in May 2008 concludes that it doesn't pose
any serious safety concerns for consumers. The European Commission reached the
same conclusions about triclosan in 2002 and triclocarban in 2005.
The data on toxic effects cited in these reports primarily come from animal
studies dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, which were not designed to detect
the same kinds of effects that the U.C. Davis researchers are now studying in
the lab and in animals.
"The science itself I think is quite good," says Kevin Crofton, PhD,
a neurotoxicologist with the EPA's National Health and Environmental Effects
Research Laboratory, when asked about the U.C. Davis research. "The
conclusions are where it gets hard. They're pointing out something that's new.
Does it require further study? Absolutely. But the thing that I think you have
to keep in mind is that what we don't really know is the relationship between
human exposures and the exposures in those studies."
The effects seen in the laboratory may not necessarily occur in people.
"We need to follow that up," Crofton says.
What the Reseachers Found: Triclosan
Chang, who coordinates the university's studies on triclosan and
triclocarban as part of the Superfund Basic Research Program, supported by the
National Institute of Environmental Health, says the U.C. Davis research
doesn't contradict findings that triclosan and triclocarban are safe for most
But it does show that "there may be sensitive periods in development
when these compounds could have a very subtle detrimental effect."
Translation: If the compounds cause harm, they are most likely to do so during
pregnancy, early childhood, and
Chang argues that antibacterial soaps don't do enough good to risk this
In 2005, an FDA advisory panel concluded that antibacterial soaps, as used
by the general public, don't prevent illness any better than ordinary soap, and
they may contribute to the rise of resistant bacteria.
In one study, recently accepted for publication in the journal
Environmental Health Perspectives and made available online, Isaac
Pessah, PhD, director of the U.C. Davis Children's Center for Environmental
Health, looked at how triclosan may affect the brain.
Pessah's test-tube study found that the chemical attached itself to special
"receptor" molecules on the surface of cells. This raises calcium
levels inside the cell. Cells overloaded with calcium get overexcited. In the
brain, these overexcited cells may burn out neural circuits, which could lead
to an imbalance that affects mental development.
Some people may carry a mutated gene that makes it easier for triclosan to
attach to their cells. That could make them more vulnerable to any effects
triclosan may cause.