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Antibacterial Soaps: Helpful or Harmful? | Safe Home Products, Inc
Home Cleaning News Antibacterial Soaps: Helpful or Harmful?
Antibacterial Soaps: Helpful or Harmful? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Morgan Burns   
Tuesday, 11 August 2009 08:53

The current hot trend in personal care and home cleaning products is the use of antibacterial agents. In fact, around 80% of all soaps contain antibacterial elements.  Now experts and consumers alike are starting to ask questions about how these chemicals affect the world at large. With all the banter on the Internet, we decided to look into the arguments for ourselves.

The chemicals in antibacterial soaps are called triclosan and triclocarban, the former being the most common. Triclosan and triclocarban were introduced into the medical field in the early seventies as antiseptics in the medical field, but exploded into the marketplace in the early 90s. On its own, triclosan is non-toxic antimicrobial agent that kills microorganisms on skin and surfaces upon contact. Triclosan and triclocarban can, at most, cause skin irritation on contact for adults. However, they kill bacteria indiscriminately, so they will kill even helpful bacteria. There is also a growing concern amongst experts about bacteria evolving to survive these agents, which makes them stronger and more harmful to humans in the future. A more pressing issue with triclosan and triclocarban is what happens when they go down the drain.

Triclosan and triclocarban are common ingredients in soaps, detergents, toothpaste, and cosmetics. So they will, inevitably, end up in the sewers. By the nature of the chemicals, a good 75% of these agents survive treatment in sewage plants. When mixed with the chlorine in drinking water, it becomes toxic. Chlorinated triclosan stores in fat cells, raising toxicity over a period of time.  Pregnant women, children, and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the effects, which have been linked cancer, and it is a suspect in the rise of autism.

Another building concern is how the use of tricolsan and triclocarban affects agricultural lands. Sludge from sewage treatment plants is a common fertilizer for crops. With the survival rate of triclosan and triclocarban being so high, it is estimated that about 200 tons of the chemicals are dumped on farmlands worldwide each year. This kills microorganisms crucial to the health of the ecosystem. Studies are still being done to measure the effects of these agents on the soil, but the potential for harm is great.

Right now, the harmful effects of triclosan and triclocarban on the environment are still being researched. However, one thing we do know is that these antibacterial agents are not necessary, as many product manufacturers would have you believe. The CDC did a study on the use of antibacterial agents in American households, and it was discovered that triclosan and triclocarban had no additional benefits to warm water and plain soap. Furthermore, the majority of infectious diseases are viral, not bacterial, and their spread is not inhibited by the use of antibacterial agents. Whether or not triclosan or triclocarban are harmful to the Earth may be up for debate, but they don’t seem to be offering any benefit. Perhaps it’s better to be safe than sorry.



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