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Food & Health : Agri. & Environ. Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Household antibacterial products can be dangerous
By David Liu -
Mar 4, 2007 - 1:15:30 PM

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Many bacteria do not deserve a death sentence and if you intend to kill them all, you may have to pay a price.   A new study found that an antibacterial known as triclosan widely used in a range of household products to help sterilize hands could do more harm than good.

The study published in ES&T’s Research ASAP website (DOI: 10.1021/es062227l) by Peter Vikesland and colleagues at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University found that under normal conditions, use of products containing triclosan could trigger production of a probable carcinogen chloroform in an amount 40 percent higher than the background level in tap water treated with chlorine.

In 2005, Vikesland and colleagues released results of a study in the Environmental Science and Technology, causing quite some stir in the industry, which showed that in laboratory settings, pure triclosan can react with free chlorine and generate toxic chloroform.

The findings reported by London's Evening Standard newspaper have prompted the British chain Marks & Spencer to remove all triclosan containing products from store shelves. Ensuing news reports also triggered withdrawal of triclosan containing tooth paste in Chinese stores.

At that time, Vikesland warned that the findings were preliminary and the added triclosan in household products may not act as in the same way as its pure counterpart does to cause formation of toxic chloroform.   But his new study of real products with real triclosan present proved that caution needs to be excised when using with triclosan containing products.

In his new study, Vikesland and his colleagues tested a total of 16 products including lotions, soaps and body washes with and without triclosan.   The discovery was shocking: all products with triclosan produced either chloroform or other chlorinated byproducts.   They estimated the users of the triclosan containing products would expose themselves to chloroform at a level 40% higher than the amount found in tap water.

Triclosan in some soap can degrade quickly. It can decompose within 1 minute when exposed to chlorinated water at 40 o C, which is commonly used at a household environment.   The amount of chloroform formed by triclosan depends on the location of tap water with little formed in Atlanta water and moderate levels formed in Danville VA water, according to the EST news online.

The decomposition speed is so fast that the researchers doubt that triclosan can provide any germ-killing benefits.    “At fairly low levels of chlorine, the triclosan degrades rapidly,” Vikesland is quoted as saying by the EST news.

The researchers say it remains unknown how the chloroform formed by triclosan would impact each individual who uses triclosan containing products.   More research is needed to assess the potential risk.

A scientist with suggests that consumers should be aware that not all bacteria need to be killed.   When you try hard to eliminate all bacteria with all toxic chemicals, you may have a good chance to get injured in a long run. Clean water with ordinary soap just work as well as its counterparts with triclosan.


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