A state slated to spend more than $1 billion over the next two decades to clean up its polluted waterways — thanks to the 2008 Legacy Amendment sales tax increase — should take every possible measure to keep a potentially toxic and relatively new contaminant out of its lakes and rivers.

That's why Monday's announcement state government will soon stop buying products containing triclosan, an antibacterial commonly used in soap and cosmetics, is a bold yet sensible step that not only will stop a sizable amount of the chemical from going down the drain, but will draw attention to the growing debate over its widespread use.

Triclosan isn't known to be hazardous to humans. But there's no evidence that consumer products containing triclosan are better than regular soap and water at preventing infections, though its use in toothpaste may boost effectiveness against gingivitis. Concerns about triclosan's use stem from what happens when it's washed off. It may form dioxins when exposed to chlorination-based wastewater treatment or when lingering amounts in water are exposed to sunlight. Some studies in animals also suggest that triclosan exposure may interfere with hormone regulation. And there's ongoing scientific debate about whether its use contributes to antibiotic resistance.

Minnesota is believed to be one of the first state governments to take such sweeping action to guard against a pollutant whose risks outweigh its benefits. Through joint purchasing contracts with schools and local governments, the state buys about $1 million worth of cleaning products a year, according to a Star Tribune story by Josephine Marcotty. The state's move should spur consumers to start looking at product ingredients and make environmentally conscious decisions to buy triclosan-free products.

Federal officials have dragged their feet for several years on issuing national regulations for triclosan's use. Because of that leadership vacuum, lawmakers should follow state agencies' lead and move quickly to adopt an even broader measure to safeguard the waterways so crucial to the state's economy and quality of life.

Legislation to be introduced this week will call for banning triclosan in personal products outside medical settings in Minnesota. A landmark study led by Minnesota scientists and funded with state lottery dollars underscores the need to act. The study found small but rising levels of triclosan in some Minnesota lakes — a finding that suggests rising triclosan levels in waterways nationally and even globally.

While lawmakers have a full agenda this session, Minnesotans expect their state to be at the leading edge when it comes to water quality protection. Triclosan provides little benefit in consumer products. What's the downside of restricting its use in Minnesota?


An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Follow the editorial board on Twitter @StribOpinion and on Facebook.