Triclosan Ban

A movement to ban Triclosan from consumer products has gained momentum after a report in 2007 said it created risks but no benefit to health.

Antibacterial soaps show no health benefits over plain soaps and, in fact, may render some common antibiotics less effective, says a University of Michigan public health professor.

It costs money to include Triclosan as an ingredient. The market, if functioning properly and recognizing the absence of benefit to the ingredient, should eliminate it. Why then, does Triclosan continue to appear in products like lipstick, deodorant, soap, shampoo…?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives no explanation.

At this time, the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.

Nonetheless, it has taken a wait-and-see approach — regardless of the lack of benefit, they do not yet see enough evidence of harm.

FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time.

Does this mean proof of benefit is not necessary but proof of harm must be overwhelming? It reminds me of the regulatory approach taken with leaded fuel:

The Public Health Service created a committee [in 1925] which reviewed a government-sponsored study of workers and an Ethyl lab test, and concluded that while leaded gasoline should not be banned, it should continue to be investigated. The low concentrations present in gasoline and exhaust were not perceived as immediately dangerous. A U.S. Surgeon General committee issued a report in 1926 that concluded there was no real evidence that the sale of TEL was hazardous to human health but urged further study. In the years that followed, research was heavily funded by the lead industry…

Despite rapid health deterioration and even the death of workers exposed to TEL, industry managed to get the regulators to wait and call for more studies.

Imagine if leaded fuel had been banned in 1925 when it was first obvious that it was highly toxic. It would have not only prevented harm but also forced innovation in safer fuels and more efficient engines (even for airplanes), instead of waiting another fifty years.

In February 1923, a Dayton filling station sold the first tankful of leaded gasoline. A few GM engineers witnessed this big moment, but Midgeley did not, because he was in bed with severe lead poisoning. He recovered; however, in April 1924, lead poisoning killed two of his unluckier colleagues, and in October, five workers at a Standard Oil lead plant died too, after what one reporter called “wrenching fits of violent insanity.” (Almost 40 of the plant’s workers suffered severe neurological symptoms like hallucinations and seizures.)

Still, for decades auto and oil companies denied that lead posed any health risks. Finally, in the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency required that carmakers phase out lead-compatible engines in the cars they sold in the United States. Today, leaded gasoline is still in use in some parts of Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East.

While the need to reduce our exposure to lead is now overwhelmingly obvious, some industry leaders continue to dispute and cast doubt on its regulation. With no known benefit in so many products, will they also fight for Triclosan?

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