State agencies have been ordered to stop buying products that contain triclosan, a microbe-killing chemical, used in everything from plastics and cosmetics to dish soap and toothpaste – but which converts to an environmental toxin after it goes down the drain.
Monday’s announcement by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency comes as debate about antibacterial products is intensifying at the state Capitol. A bill banning triclosan’s use outside of medical settings is expected to be introduced this week, and the Legislature will conduct a hearing Tuesday on the pros and cons of the chemical.
The steps reflect concern over recent research showing the triclosan toxins have been accumulating steadily in the bottom of many of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, after years of being discharged from water-treatment plants.
Conservationists have expressed growing concern that triclosan can damage the naturally occurring bacteria, microbes and algae that form critical links in the natural food chain, and that when exposed to chlorine in the treatment process and sunlight in water, it converts to a potential carcinogen. In laboratory studies, it’s been shown to interfere with reproduction in some aquatic animals.
Triclosan is included on the package ingredient list of products that contain it. Plastics or fabrics that contain triclosan are sometimes marked as Microban or Biofresh. Other common products that contain triclosan are Lever 2000 soap and Colgate Total toothpaste.
Concern about the use of triclosan is growing globally. Canada and Japan have both banned the sale of consumer products with the chemical, and Kaiser Permanente medical system in California has stopped using them in its hospitals. The consumer product giant Johnson & Johnson is phasing out its use as well.
In the environment, triclosan becomes a dioxin, a family of environmental contaminates linked to a variety of health risks, from cancer to hormone disruption, and which persist in the environment for years. The recent study of triclosan in eight Minnesota lakes, conducted by scientists at the University of Minnesota and the Science Museum of Minnesota, found that triclosan and the dioxins it forms have increased in sediment while other kinds have decreased. In short, even though the water-treatment process removes most of the triclosan, antibacterial products are now the primary source of dioxins in the lakes and rivers.
Article by: Josephine Marcotty
Star Tribune, March 4, 2013