Lawsuit Asks FDA To Regulate Sperm-Damaging Antimicrobial Soap Chemicals

Thirty years ago, the FDA considered regulating two toxic chemicals that can damage reproductive organs, sperm quality, and hormone production. Rather than do something, the agency instead did nothing. Last week, the National Resources Defense Council sued the agency, asking them to finally finish the job and regulate the chemicals triclosan and triclocarban.

Plaintiffs contend that the FDA violated federal law in its delay over establishing safe conditions of use. More than 30 years ago, the agency first proposed to regulate such products for over-the-counter use, but they remain on the market and are unregulated, the group said.


In 1978, according to the lawsuit, the FDA proposed to ban from interstate commerce both triclosan and triclocarban either six months or two years after publication of its final study, but no action was taken until 1994, when some ingredients were reclassified.

The FDA announced back in April that they would review the chemicals, but that was a promise to Congress, which is about as enforceable as a promise from a Congressman. The suit instead seeks a court order that would force the FDA to finish the work by a specified deadline. In the meantime, the FDA claims that it’s “working diligently” to finish the regulations and maintains that there is no evidence that the chemicals are harmful.

Health group sues FDA over antimicrobial soap [Reuters]


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  1. ShruggingGalt says:

    So who is right? Is there substantial evidence that they are harmful or did Andrew Wakefield author the NRDC study?

  2. Forty2 says:

    About bloody time. “Antibacterial” crap just makes us sicker when the little bastards develop resistance to the antibiotic-du-jour. As a species we’ve survived just fine for millenia without antibacterial soaps. Oh, about five seconds after you wash with that stuff your hands repopulate with germs, so why bother…

    • kerry says:

      Also: Triclosan requires about 10 minutes of sustained contact to be effective, so in the case of antibacterial soap you’re basically just running the stuff straight down the drain, without killing anything on your hands. The soap and water do all the work (and, really, the water does most of the work itself).
      When you run it down the drain you promote resistance in all the bugs down there and you kill helpful bacteria in the soil if it leaches into the groundwater. Fun!

      • chiieddy says:

        It damages ecosystems in the oceans once it gets in there after going through sewage treatment facilities as well, don’t forget.

        We go out of our way to get liquid soap that isn’t anti-bacterial. The only refill I’ve found is Softsoap to be honest, and even then, I was once tricked into an anti-bacterial because their refill containers look identical and BJs was only selling the anti-bacterial version.

        Wash your hands by running under the warmest water you can stand for 30 seconds. Teach children to sing the alphabet song while they wash (all the way to the very end, not just ‘Z’). McDonald’s uses ‘Happy Birthday to You’ to teach their employees the appropriate length of time to wash hands, but either song works.

        • bravohotel01 says:

          Hot water does nothing (except loosen grease). If you want to kill germs, you would need to stick your mitts into an autoclave (~120 degrees C) for 1/2 hour or more–long enough to burn your epidermis and go to work on your dermis.

          • kerry says:

            Hot water helps loosen the bugs from your hands, along with the friction of rubbing your hands together you physically dislodge the bacteria from your skin and wash them down the drain. Hot water helps loosen them by weakening protein and lipid interactions they’re having with your skin. Cold water is less effective at this, which is why you should wash with the warmest water you can tolerate.

            • Conformist138 says:

              And remember, we’re not just taking all the critters and peeling them from our hands, we’re also scrubbing away the dead skin cells that make up the outer layer of our skin (unless you’re obsessive with hand-washing and are all red and raw now). The nasty bugs that are on this outer layer don’t even need to be pried from the skin if the skin cells themselves come off so easy.

        • kerry says:

          Method doesn’t use antibacterial agents in any of their handsoaps, and you can buy bagged refills which save money and plastic.

          • NatalieErin says:

            They also have an antibacterial-free dishsoap. You’d think that’d be normal, but the last time I bought dishsoap about half of them were antibacterial.

    • Alvis says:

      You can’t out-think evolution.

      Use germ-killing soap, resistant germs thrive.

      Just wash your hands all the time, germs evolve to repel soap.

      Of course, we’ll get better at fighting germs, too. In the end, some of us will get sick from germs, some of the time.

      • Phil Villakeepinitrreal says:

        Germs may evolve to fight soap ingreedients, but what they can’t fight is the simple action of the scrubbing and rinsing, which physically pulls them away and sends them on their merry way. Soap simply makes that action more effective. And, as has been shown, the simple washing with normal soaps removes almost exactly the same amount of bacteria removed by antibacterial soaps.

        • Tim says:

          Well, any time that something kills a group of organisms of the same species (or hampers their ability to reproduce), while leaving some of them alive, it’s the beginning of evolution. So when you rub your hands together and rinse them, some bacteria are undoubtedly left on your hands. They will reproduce and generation by generation, become more and more resistant to hand-washing.

          • denros says:

            I’m no microbiologist, so apologies to those who are if this is kludgy, but…

            That assumes that some trait (such as “stickiness”) of the bacteria left them there after scrubbing + soap + hot water. The problem is, any bacteria still left after washing one’s hands with traditional soap are more likely there because the washing implement was too coarse to completely remove all traces of bacteria. So in effect, they weren’t exposed to the variable, therefore they don’t necessarily have a higher probability of surviving it. Even if a few do, I don’t think it’s enough for natural selection to really take off. That, and we’ve been using traditional soap for hundreds (if not thousands, in some form) of years and the effectiveness of hand-washing does not seem to be reduced.

          • Merricat says:

            No, evolution only works, ‘that way’ if the survivors actually had traits that made their survival more likely than the dead and those traits can be passed along to future generations.

            Run a colony of bacteria through an autoclave with messed up enough settings that not all of them die, you don’t develop a super strain of bacteria that is immune to extreme temperatures, not if you aren’t in a comic book and friends with Bruce Banner.

            That being said, these chemicals have not been proven to actually be that effective, so I vote to dump them.

    • hattrick says:

      Let’s not forget, a lot of microbes we carry are actually good. The whole reason your blood clots properly is because there’s a bacteria in your gut that makes Vitamin K.

      If you’re doing surgery, you need really, really clean hands, because you’re putting hand germs into the body cavity. That can be a mess.

      But most of the time, a quick washing before eating and after the bathroom is far preferable to a full-out sterilization because you want those good, healthy colonies on your hands driving out the bad guys. It’s normal to be conered in bacteria. Some of them are even our friends.

  3. FrankReality says:

    Must be the government at work – the FDA claims that there is no evidence that the chemicals are harmful, yet they are “working diligently” to finish the regulations. If the chemicals aren’t harmful, then why in the heck is the govt writing regulations for it?

    Now doesn’t the FDA have the delegated authority from Congress to determine what should and should not be regulated? If so, the judge ought to throw it out of court.

    For anyone not familiar with the Andrew Wakefield reference, Dr. Wakefield published a study which falsely interpreted that the MMR childhood vaccination was linked to autism. He was later charged and convicted of scientific misconduct. His controversial study was retracted due falsified parts of paper. for more info see

  4. dg says:

    So what’s the actual supposed problems with these substances? The article was light on details, and I didn’t find a link to any studies…

    • kerry says:

      It’s possibly harmful to humans, but more immediately it promotes resistance to antibiotics. Overuse of antimicrobial drugs leads to resistance to other drugs. It’s been shown that E. coli and Staph. aureus bacteria become resistant to medical antibiotics when they develop a mechanism of resistance to triclosan.

  5. Sunflower1970 says:

    I stopped buying anything with tri-anything. If it says anti-microbial I don’t buy it.

    I understand that it’s banned in Europe and Canada for a possible link to cancer. I figured I have made it this far in life without anti-microbial soaps, I can survive longer without them. (been a couple of years now) And so far I don’t notice being any more or less sick than with using them…

  6. SpenceMan01 says:

    Check your toothpaste, too. Many of them have Triclosan in it, too.

    • Tim says:

      The only one that I’ve found to have it is Colgate Total. I don’t usually use Colgate Total, but I get tiny tubes from my dentist when I get a cleaning, so I use it for traveling. I figure it can’t do too much harm every once in a while.

  7. OMG_BECKY says:

    The FDA is f’ing a JOKE! Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking they’re protecting you. They are NOT. And while we’re on the subject: CIPRO IS POISON! The FDA knows this and they look the other way. It f’ing cripples people for life!

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      Got a citation on that?

      • Conformist138 says:

        From “Adverse Reactions”:

        “Serious adverse events occur more commonly with fluoroquinolones than with any other antibiotic drug classes.”

        “The serious adverse effects that may occur as a result of ciprofloxacin therapy include irreversible peripheral neuropathy, spontaneous tendon rupture and tendonitis, acute liver failure or serious liver injury (hepatitis), QTc prolongation/torsades de pointes, toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), and Stevens-Johnson syndrome, severe central nervous system disorders (CNS) and Clostridium difficile associated disease (CDAD: pseudomembranous colitis), as well as photosensitivity/phototoxicity reactions.

        Psychotic reactions and confusional states, acute pancreatitis, bone marrow depression, interstitial nephritis and hemolytic anemia may also occur during ciprofloxacin therapy. Additional serious adverse reactions include temporary, as well as permanent, loss of vision, irreversible double vision, drug induced psychosis and chorea (involuntary muscle movements), impaired color vision, exanthema, abdominal pain, malaise, drug fever, dysaesthesia and eosinophilia. Pseudotumor cerebri, commonly known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH), (also referred to as increased intracranial pressure), has been reported to occur as a serious adverse reaction to ciprofloxacin.”

  8. Wrathernaut says:

    “No evidence it’s harmful… because we neglected to collect the evidences.” – FDA

  9. wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

    Glad I am one of those crazy people who just uses soap to wash everything… and not any anit-crap to be found. Wow, we’re healthy and smell good, too.

  10. Bernardo says:

    WTF?!??! I wash my hands so often they dry out, but I dont get that often… And now I learn about this.. What the heck am I supposed to do? What brands should I avoid? I want a safe list of products to buy. Please consumerist make a safe list!

    • NatalieErin says:

      You should be able to just look at the label – if it has either or these chemical names or is labeled as anti-bacterial/anti-microbial you may want to avoid it.

    • Conformist138 says:

      You can start by getting help for your mild OCD.

      I take the George Carlin route: you know when I wash my hands? When I get shit on them. Tempered in raw sewage, I am never sick cuz my immune system gets so much practice.

      • qbubbles says:

        Amen. I dont wash my hands. I didnt piss on them. I will wash them when they are obviously dirty (or sticky, I hate sticky hands), and not a second earlier. People say I’m sick. I say I’m a hell of a lot healthier than they are because I can crack open a can of botulism and not break a sweat.

  11. packcamera says:

    It is interesting how a pesticide like Triclosan gets a second-life as a food additive. Should I be looking for DDT in my Flinstone’s Vitamins?

  12. RxDude says:

    Well, if it kills germs, I guess it kills germs…