The powerful consumer-products industry sent its best lobbyists to Minnesota in 2014. Their well-funded mission: stopping lawmakers from banning a soap additive that’s potentially toxic when it’s washed down the drain and winds up in waterways.
But this is a state that protects its lakes and rivers. “Big Soap,” as some water-quality advocates dubbed it, suffered a rare defeat: The ban on triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient that is passed by hand-washing.
Thanks to sensible action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the rest of the nation is set to follow Minnesota’s praiseworthy lead on this important water-quality issue. Earlier this month, the federal agency essentially gave manufacturers a year to get triclosan and similar chemicals out of many personal-care products, such as hand soaps where they are commonly used.
The new rule, which limits marketing of these products, came after the agency concluded that “manufacturers haven’t proven that those ingredients are safe for daily use over a long period of time. Also, manufacturers haven’t shown that these ingredients are any more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illnesses and the spread of certain infections.”
Questions about the long-term use of triclosan and other chemicals have been bubbling for some time. Public-health experts such as Minnesota’s Mike Osterholm have raised concerns about the additive’s potential to hasten the rise of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
Research conducted by scientists from the University of Minnesota and the Science Museum of Minnesota in the early part of this decade also spotlighted water-quality concerns. The work, funded by state lottery dollars, linked rising triclosan levels in waterways to consumer product use. In addition, it raised questions about toxic byproducts that may be created when triclosan is exposed to sunlight in waterways or goes through chlorination processes during wastewater treatment.
There are still products that may contain triclosan or similar chemicals. Concerned consumers can take the FDA action a step further by looking at labels and choosing products without triclosan. The Environmental Working Group’s laudable SkinDeep cosmetics database provides additional information for those wanting triclosan-free products.