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Antibacterial Chemical Popular Products Raises Safety Issues

The Food and Drug Administration is looking into the safety of a key ingredient in many antibacterial soaps on the market, according to the New York Times. The chemical—known as triclosan—was developed more than 40 years ago as a surgical scrub for hospitals. It is now found in a range of consumer products, including best-selling toothpaste, Colgate Total.

In fact, it is so prevalent that a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the chemical present in the urine of 75 percent of Americans over the age of 5.

What concerns the FDA is that several studies have shown that triclosan may alter hormone regulation in laboratory animals or cause antibiotic resistance. As a result, several consumer groups and members of Congress want it banned in antiseptic products like hand soap. In a Feb. 23, 2010 letter to Mr. Markey, the FDA noted that these studies “raise valid concerns about the effect of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients.”

What Does This Mean for Consumers?

We will certainly know more when the FDA releases its findings sometime next year. In the meantime, the FDA has already said that soap with triclosan is no more effective than washing with ordinary soap and water, a finding that manufacturers dispute. While manufacturers contest the potential harmful effects of the chemical, many liquid soaps, including Soft Soap and Palmolive Antibacterial Dish Liquid, have been reformulated without triclosan.