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Back to the basics: Wash with plain soap and water

Before you wash your hands, read this please!

When you comb the personal care shelves of stores, you probably look for soaps and washes that are labeled as “antibacterial,” believing that such products will protect you from germs and keep your family safe from infection and disease.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself: Are these antibacterial products any better than ordinary soap and water?
Did you know that a few months from now (exactly on September 6), consumer antiseptic wash products containing triclosan, triclocarban, and 17 other antibacterial ingredients would no longer be allowed in the US market? 

A 25-page “final rule” issued by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that these 19 active ingredients in over-the-counter antibacterial bar soaps, body washes, and hand washes “are not generally recognized as safe and effective and are misbranded.”
FDA said “the data and information submitted for these active ingredients are insufficient to demonstrate that there is any additional benefit from the use of these active ingredients in consumer antiseptic wash products compared to nonbacterial soap and water.”

FDA added, “The available information and published data for the 19 active ingredients are insufficient to establish the safety of long-term, daily repeated exposure to these active ingredients used in consumer wash products.”

It’s long overdue! So exclaims visiting expert Dr. Ann Blake, noting that the FDA’s ban on triclosan, triclocarban, and the 17 other antibacterial agents in consumer antiseptic wash products is hugely significant because it acknowledges that these germ killers provide no added benefits over regular soap and water and “could even pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.”
EcoWaste Coalition, a non-profit group promoting chemical safety and zero waste, invited Blake, a leading public health and environmental consultant from California for the second time.

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“Triclosan and other hospital-grade disinfectants don’t belong in consumer products. They’re marketed to prey on consumers’ fear of antibiotic-resistant ’Superbugs,’ but don’t actually help,” asserts Blake. “Some disinfectant compounds used in consumer products in fact contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistance in the environment.”

In an experiment, volunteers were asked to wash their hands for 30 seconds with antibacterial soaps that were exposed to bacteria in petri dishes. Result: The antibacterial soap containing triclosan was “no more effective than plain soap at reducing bacterial contamination.” Only after the bacteria were soaked in the antibacterial soap for nine hours did the triclosan-containing soap kill more bacteria than plain soap, showing how useless the antibacterial soap is.
More, Blake traces the rise of antibiotic-resistant disease agents to our overuse of antibiotics prophylactically in industrial meat production, including beef, pork, and chicken.

“Let’s tackle the problem at its source,” she suggests. “Reduce or eliminate the need for antibiotics in food production by changing practices, don’t use antibacterial soaps in our homes, and keep antibiotics working for when we really need them.”

In addition, Blake drew attention to the environmental impacts of antibacterials and antimicrobials, including the massive increase of triclosan and triclocarban in wastewater and biosolids (organic matter recycled from sewage), their accumulation in biosolids applied to food crops, their persistence, and their ability to form dangerous substances such as chloroform or dioxin when exposed to sunlight and when combined with trace chlorine in tap water.

“The US FDA ruling, while only applicable to antibacterial soaps and washes, should encourage consumers into questioning the presence of personal care and cleaning products containing triclosan and triclocarban in local store shelves,” notes Rene Pineda, a Steering Committee member of the EcoWaste Coalition.

He stresses, “If triclosan and triclocarban-containing soaps and washes are ‘not generally recognized as safe and effective and are misbranded,’ as per US FDA, we don’t see any justification for such products to be produced and offered for sale in our country. Our regulators should act swiftly and ban these unsafe, ineffective, and misbranded antibacterial products laced with triclosan and triclocarban, which are washed into the wastewater and add to the toxic contamination of our water bodies and water sources.”

He strongly urges everyone, “Consumers could help in preventing the health and environmental damage caused by triclosan and triclocarban by going back to the basics: Wash with plain soap and water.”

 For our part, what can consumers do to avoid using triclosan and triclocarban? EcoWaste Coalition gives these handy tips:

• Simply wash hands with plain soap and water.

• Read product labels and decline soaps, washes, and other personal care products with triclosan or triclocarban as listed ingredients.

• Use cleaning products that do not contain antibacterials as chemical disinfection is unnecessary in most situations.

• Avoid kitchen and household products marketed as “antibacterial” as these may contain triclosan or triclocarban.

For more information about the health and environmental impacts of triclosan and its chemical cousin triclocarban, visit: https://www.foodandwaterwatch. org/insight/triclosan-what-research-shows.

Of course, when it comes to our health and that of Mother Earth, we simply can’t afford to be wishy-washy.

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