Antibacterial soaps are found everywhere these days. But are they doing more harm than good? You bet ya.

By Dan ShapleyThe Daily Green

For years, environmental and health groups have raised concerns about antibacterial ingredients — pesticides, essentially — used widely in many consumer products. Part of the concern stems from the properties of antibacterial agents, which some evidence suggests could disrupt human hormones, increase cancer risk and cause other health concerns. Part of the concern stems from their wide use, potentially fostering the creation of dangerous superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.

A court has deemed the potential risks real enough that a trial should continue over the safety of triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient used widely in soaps and other personal care products, as well as fabrics, medical products, and a host of others. “The Second U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Manhattan reinstated a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council against the FDA over its failure to finalize its regulation of triclosan, a chemical used in antibacterial soap, toothpaste and other consumer goods,” according to the Associated Press. “The FDA has said it is looking into animal studies suggesting triclosan can disrupt hormone levels.”

3rd-Rock-Rashblock

There’s evidence that tricolsan may be an endocrine-disrupting chemical, messing with our hormones, and that it breaks down into dioxin, a known carcinogen. Because we dump so much down the drain with each washing, it even contaminates dolphins, according to one recent study.

The lawsuit is only the latest front in this conflict. Other health and environmental groups have pushed for Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency bans on the chemical’s use. The chemical is found in most humans whose blood and urine has been analyzed for the presence of trace chemicals. Some of these studies suggest the concentration in our bodies is increasing.

In general, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a safer alternative, and they need only be used when hot water and regular old soap are unavailable. Most studies suggest thorough hand-washing is the most effective and environmentally benign way to prevent the spread of germs.

Under pressure from consumer advocates, many companies have removed triclosan from their products or pledged not to use it.

This article was written by Dan Shapley and published in The Daily Green on March 18, 2013. Photo by Jon Miller/Flickr.

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