Attack of the Antibacterial Soaps!

Triclosan, a chemical widely used in antibacterial soaps, is turning up in dolphins. The agent gets into oceans after traveling from, for instance, your bathroom sink into wastewater streams. Though 90 to 98 percent of the chemical is broken down before it reaches fresh water, even the small percentage that remains becomes significant due to antibacterial soaps’ wide use.

Why is this a problem? While the effects on dolphins are unknown, triclosan has been show to disrupt the endocrine system of other animals, inhibiting development and growth.

And sea creatures aren’t the only concern:

Three-quarters of people tested in the United States have triclosan in their urine, according to a 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also has been found in breast milk of Swedish women. The concentrations reported in humans are similar to
those found in dolphins….

Of course, the degree to which the triclosan invasion is harmful is subject to debate. (No one’s arguing that it’s a good thing, however, unless they hate bullfrogs.)

What I don’t get is the popularity of antibacterial soaps in the first place. All soaps are antibacterial, as long as they’re used correctly—as long as you sing the “Happy Birthday” song.

Are Germ-Killing Soaps Affecting Dolphin Development? [New Scientist] (Thanks to Anna Holmes!)
Safety of Antibacterial Soap Debated [WebMD]
(Photo: philipbouchard

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.