Will legislators summon the backbone this year to safeguard Minnesotans and the state’s lakes and rivers from triclosan, a common chemical in antibacterial soaps? Or will lawmakers once again fold under pressure from industry lobbyists who say it’s just fine to keep washing this potentially harmful pollution down our drains?
So far it looks as though key legislators in the Minnesota House are putting the logical priority on public health and water quality. Last week, a bill that would ban the sale of triclosan and related compounds in consumer products in the state cleared a key House health committee, setting the stage for Minnesota to take the lead nationally in enacting broad restrictions.
The committee’s leadership on this important issue comes as questions mount about the chemical’s potential human health risks and its link to waterways’ increasing levels of dioxins.
While the bill still has a long way to go before becoming law, its movement is progress, particularly after industry lobbyists tried again to shoot down these safeguards after derailing a similar effort last spring. Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, is the lead author on the bill.
Legislators have a short and crowded session this year, but the triclosan ban is an action item that should get done. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said late last year that the agency has no data showing products with triclosan are better than plain soap and water at preventing illness. As doubts grow about triclosan’s benefits, there are rising questions about its risks.
FDA officials have noted emerging research suggesting that triclosan may affect hormone levels. Infectious-disease experts also have serious concerns that broad use could increase bacterial resistance, making antibiotics less effective.
A study led by the University of Minnesota also provided strong evidence that triclosan makes its way into waterways after it goes down the drain. That’s troubling because exposing triclosan to sunlight may create dioxins.
Responsible manufacturers already are phasing out consumer care products containing this chemical. Federal officials may also be weighing safeguards, though officials have dragged their feet for years on this issue.
Minnesota shouldn’t wait for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to finally move. Gov. Mark Dayton last year ordered state agencies to stop buying triclosan consumer products. Lawmakers should follow his lead and move swiftly to put broader protections in place.