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Triclosan: What the Research Shows, 2008-2010

Triclosan: What the Research Shows, 2008-2010

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Although the market for “antibacterial” products remains strong, public opinion on triclosan is turning. In the past two years, pressure from activists and U.S. policy makers, as well as emerging science have forced federal agencies to finally begin a thorough investigation of this toxic pesticide.
Although the market for “antibacterial” products remains strong, public opinion on triclosan is turning. In the past two years, pressure from activists and U.S. policy makers, as well as emerging science have forced federal agencies to finally begin a thorough investigation of this toxic pesticide.

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Published by: Food and Water Watch on Mar 14, 2011
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Triclosan: What the Research Shows,2008-2010
U.S. consumers spend an estimated $1 billion per year on“antibacterial” soaps and other household and personalcare products, many of which contain triclosan.
It isestimated that 76 percent of liquid soaps and 29 percent of bar soaps on the market contain triclosan or triclocarban,another commonly used antibacterial chemical.
 Yet research published between 2008 and 2010 demon-strates the many ways triclosan negatively impacts publicand environmental health. The sheer number of new studieson triclosan published over the past two years punctuatesthis growing concern. The manufacturers of “antibacterial”
products that use triclosan, may soon nd that they have no
choice but to remove this chemical from their formulations.In particular, the most recent literature highlights triclosan’sconsiderable human and environmental health effects.What is emerging is a clearer picture of the effects of triclo-san on the individual and the food chain.
Health Concerns
Continuous Human Exposure
Early research identied triclosan’s tendency to accumulate
in our bodies. Triclosan has been found in human blood andurine, as well as in breast milk and umbilical cord blood.
 In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control’s National Healthand Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) report foundtriclosan in the urine of 75 percent of the U.S. population.
 New data suggest that the amount of triclosan in our bod-ies is higher than ever. The Centers for Disease Control’s2010 publication, the
Fourth National Report on HumanExposure to Environmental Chemicals,
estimates that hu-man triclosan levels increased by more than 41 percentbetween 2004 and 2006.
In addition, the report suggeststhat triclosan concentrations increase with age.
lthough the market for “antibacterial” products remains strong, publicopinion on triclosan is turning. In the past two years, pressure from activistsand U.S. policy makers, as well as emerging science have forced federal
agencies to nally begin a thorough investigation of this toxic pesticide.
While triclosan is nearly ubiquitous in the human popula-tion, including in people who avoid antibacterial products,some people may be more affected than others. In 2009,Physicians for Social Responsibility, the American NursesAssociation and Health Care Without Harm jointly re-leased a report on toxic chemicals found in the bodies of doctors and nurses. The
Hazardous Chemicals In HealthCare
study tested for 62 chemicals, including triclosan.Of the 20 participants, 75 percent had triclosan in their
urine; these ndings were consistent with the 2003-2004
NHANES study. However, the average study participanthad three times more triclosan in their urine than was de-tected in the general U.S. population.
Another study published in 2009 signals troubling newsabout triclosan’s ability to bioaccumulate. Researchers atthe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) discovered triclosan in the blood of wild bottle-nose dolphins
The study examined blood samples fromwild bottlenose dolphins living in South Carolina andFlorida waterways. Triclosan was detected in 31 percent of the dolphins tested from South Carolina and 23 percent of 
the animals from Florida. This is the rst study to identify
triclosan bioaccumulation in wild marine mammals.
Hormone Disruption
Previous animal studies have shown that triclosan altersimportant hormone levels, which could result in neurotox-icity, decreased thyroid function and the growth of breastcancer cells.
According to a scientic statement
issued by the Endocrine Society in 2009, hormone-disrupt-ing chemicals can cause early onset puberty, reduced fertil-ity, neurodevelopmental problems, obesity and cancer.
 In 2009, researchers discovered that exposure to triclosansubstantially decreased levels of testosterone and thyrox-ine, an important thyroid hormone, in young male rats.
 A 2010 study suggests that the decrease in thyroxine couldbe caused by triclosan’s effect on the liver.
Additional re-search has shown that triclosan dramatically reduces spermproduction in a variety of laboratory animals including
male rats and adult male mosquitosh.
 Similarly, research shows that triclosan affects the levelsof thyroid hormones and estrogen in female rats. Youngfemale rats exposed to triclosan showed a decrease in total
thyroxine levels. Specically, triclosan exposure was asso
-ciated with early onset advanced stages of puberty and anincrease in uterine weight.
Fetal Growth and Development 
An alarming new scientic nding links triclosan to poten
-tial negative birth outcomes. In late 2010, scientists at theUniversity of Florida published their discovery that triclo-san interferes with an enzyme that helps estrogen crossthe placenta to reach the growing fetus.
Estrogen is vitalfor the growth and development of major organs, like thelungs and liver, in a growing fetus. Miscarriage can occurwhen estrogen is unable to cross the placenta.
 Making matters worse, new data published in January2011 reveal high levels of triclosan in pregnant women.Using a nationally representative sample of the UnitedStates population from the NHANES 2003-2004 data,researchers found that while concentrations of chemi-cals in pregnant women were similar if not lower than innon-pregnant women, triclosan was one of few exceptionsfound to be more highly concentrated.
“The high potency of Triclosan as an in-hibitor of estrogen sulfotransferase activity raises concern about its possible effectson the ability of the placenta to supply estrogen to the fetus, and in turn on fetal growth and development” (James, 2010).
New research from the University of Michigan reveals a po-tential link between triclosan and increased risk of allergiesin children. Using 2003-2006 NHANES data, researcherscompared allergy antibody levels, history of hay fever andallergy diagnoses to the level of triclosan present in urinesamples. In the under-18 age group, children with higherconcentrations of triclosan in their urine were also morelikely to have been diagnosed with allergies or hay fever.
Environmental Concerns
As in the human population, triclosan is also pervasive inthe environment.
Triclosan has made its way fromthe store, to our homes, down the drain, and into our
water and wildlife. Previous research identied triclosanin drinking water, surface water, algae, sh and earth
New data reveal an even more soberingpicture of triclosan’s impact on the environment, and thefood chain.
“. . . triclosan is found in nished drink 
-ing water, surface water, wastewater, and environmental sediments, as well as in
the bile of wild sh, indicating extensive
contamination of aquatic ecosystems.”
 (Fang, 2010)
Pesticides like triclosan are highly toxic to algae and othermicroorganisms.
A 2010 study tested the effects of triclo-san on naturally occurring bacterial communities. The re-sults indicate that even at low levels, triclosan can reducephotosynthesis in a type of algae known as diatoms.
It isthrough the process of photosynthesis that diatoms gener-ate the oxygen and nourishment other aquatic life need tosurvive.
Though triclosan may be more toxic to algae, it can affecthigher forms of aquatic life. In 2010, Japanese researchersdesigned a study to determine the impact of triclosan on
the eating and swimming habits of medaka sh. Althoughtriclosan did not signicantly impact eating behaviors, it
did slow swimming speed.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s2009 Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey, triclosanwas detected in 92 percent of sewage sludge samples col-lected from across the United States.
Of the chemicalsused in personal care products, triclosan was the secondmost common contaminant; triclocarban was the mostcommon contaminant. A 2010 study conducted by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture conrms that triclosan in
sewage sludge degrades slowly and persists in the environ-ment at low levels.
Food Chain
It is estimated that more than 100,000 pounds of triclosan
are spread on U.S. agricultural elds as sludge each year.
 Until recently, scientists had speculated that triclosan couldcontaminate agricultural crops that had been “fertilized”
with sludge. New research conrms that crops can readily
absorb triclosan from sludge. Researchers simulated sludgeapplication and recycled wastewater irrigation on soybeancrops. They found that the root systems absorbed triclosanfrom both the sludge and wastewater. Moreover, triclosanmigrated to other parts of the plant, including the beans.
Breakdown Products
Numerous studies have shown that when triclosan-con-taminated surface waters are exposed to sunlight, triclosancan produce a suite of toxic byproducts.
In 2010,University of Minnesota scientists found that as concentra-tions of triclosan in sediment increased, so did the levelsof four dioxins derived from triclosan. While levels of allother dioxins have dropped by 73 to 90 percent over thelast 30 years, the levels of these four triclosan-associateddioxins have risen by 200-300 percent.
This is especiallyconcerning given that dioxins are known carcinogens. TheUnited Nation’s Stockholm Convention includes dioxins inits list of the 12 most toxic chemicals, known as the
dirty dozen.
Triclosan is everywhere. It is in our homes and in our bod-ies. And triclosan is just one of the hundreds of chemicalswe come into contact with and absorb every day. Theprecise consequence of carrying around an individualchemical like triclosan is uncertain. But from what we haveseen in peer-reviewed studies, triclosan has the potential todisrupt hormones, interfere with normal fetal development,increase risk for antibiotic-resistant superbugs and affectevery segment of the food chain. Scarier still, we don’tknow the long-term effects of carrying around the mixtureof chemicals present in our bodies.One thing that is certain is that infants and children areexposed to triclosan before they even come into this world.It is unacceptable that they are subjected to potential harmwhen products containing triclosan are no more effectivethan products made without it. For every “antibacterial”product on the market, there is an equally effective andsafer alternative. Triclosan is one chemical that could, andshould, be eliminated from our shelves and our bodies.
About Food & Water Watch
Food & Water Watch is a nonprot consumer organiza
-tion that works to ensure clean water and safe food in theUnited States and around the world. We challenge the cor-porate control and abuse of our food and water resourcesby empowering people to take action and by transformingthe public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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