Safety of Antibacterial Soap Debated
Researchers See Potential Health Hazards; Manufacturers Say Products Are Safe
WebMD News Archive
Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the Soap and Detergent Association, an
organization headquartered in Washington D.C. that represents manufacturers of
all kinds of cleaning products, says studies have shown the products are
"They have been reviewed and analyzed and studied by scientists and
government agencies for decades," Sansoni says. "We're disappointed at
some of the alarmist conclusions made by the authors."
Sansoni confirms that a representative of the association plans to meet with
U.C. Davis researchers. But he says their findings aren't too worrisome.
"Consumers can continue to safely use antibacterial soap and hygiene
products with confidence," he says.
The Government's Perspective
Developed in the 1950s and 1960s, triclocarban and triclosan were first used
mainly as antiseptic agents in hospitals. Sales of consumer antibacterial
products took off in the early 1990s, backed by multimillion-dollar ad
campaigns for popular soap. By 2004, manufacturers were introducing hundreds of
new antibacterial products every year.
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.