Thanks to the abundance of medical fear mongering in America, people are obsessed with killing microorganisms. Antimicrobial compounds are the weapons of choice, but a biologist at Arizona State University is saying they are unsafe and don’t work.
Associate Professor Rolf Halden, of the Biodesign Institute at ASU is a biologist and engineer. Halden is interested in studying chemicals produced in high volume for consumer use.
“I follow the pathways of these substances and try to figure out what they do to the environment, what they do to us and how we can better manage them” He said in an ASU press release.
Triclosan and triclocarban are the two most popular antimicrobial amalgamations. These chemicals are both found in a lot of personal hygiene products like antimicrobial soaps. Triclosan is also formulated into common items like plastics, toys, and pieces of clothing.
Halden says that he doesn’t think that triclosan and triclocarban are safe for human health and the environment. He also doesn’t think that these compounds work.
Triclosan was patented in 1964. It was first used in a clinical setting, where it was discovered to be a powerful bacterial killer that was useful before surgical procedures. Since then the companies that make money off of these chemicals have been driven to make consumers believe that they need antimicrobials.
Their marketing has been fierce and it was been very fruitful.
Antimicrobials were first put into commercial hand soaps in the 1980’s. By 2001, 76 percent of liquid hand soaps had the chemicals in them.
Now antimicrobials are a billion dollar a year industry. These chemicals interpenetrate the environment and our bodies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, humans have seen their levels of triclosan increase by an average of 50 percent since 2004!
Sixty percent of all rivers and streams across the nation have triclosan and triclocarban in them. Analysis of sediment in lakes shows that there has been a steady increase of triclosan since the 60’s.
Antimicrobial chemicals are in household dust and they can even act as allergens, and shockingly 97 percent of all American women show levels of triclosan in their breast milk! The massive amount of unnecessary exposures carry some risks. Presently these risks are not well defined.
Halden and his team’s research did a series of experiments to track the environmental course of the ingredients in personal hygiene products. The results were not good. They found that triclosan and triclocarban initially collect in wastewater sludge and are then transferred to soils and natural water habitats, there they remain for months or even years.
These chemicals are not easily broken-down by nature. Even worse they tend to stick to particles, which makes them even more difficult to break down. This means that these chemicals lay around long enough to be transported through the water system until it reaches coastal waters.
A recent study on dolphins from contaminated coastal waters showed that the dolphins have begun to accumulate triclosan in their bodies.
“We make 13 billion pounds of dry sludge per year,” Halden notes. “That is equal to a railroad train filled with sludge stretching 750 miles from Phoenix to San Francisco.”
Half of this sludge ends up in agricultural fields. The antimicrobials in the sludge could most definitely end up in our food and our water supplies. Halden thinks that this issue is not given enough attention.
Halden and his team did however discover microorganisms that are adapted to not only tolerate but also break down pervasive antimicrobials. That is a bit of good news.
But the fact remains that these chemicals are getting into our food and water. And they are harmful to the animals that are exposed to them.
In 2005, the FDA had an expert panel review the information on these chemicals. Halden was one of the members of this committee. They concluded that regular usage of antimicrobial products is no more effective than traditional methods of hygiene.
“The culture of fear leads people to make impulsive decisions and buy a lot of antimicrobial products that are not really needed,” Halden says. “It's a profitable market to be in, but not one that is ultimately sustainable or a good idea.”
The experts say that antimicrobial hygiene products are no more effective than regular soap and water. Our constant exposure to these chemicals might be doing more harm than good.