Will Anti-Bacterial Soaps Be Pulled from Store Shelves?

A coalition of industry groups is fighting a proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they say could result in antibacterial soaps and body washes being removed from store shelves.

The groups — the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) and the Personal Care Products Council – say that the proposed FDA rules could lead to 7.5 million new cases of food borne illness and more than $38 billion in health care costs annually.

For its part, the FDA asserts that manufacturers who use the antibacterial chemical triclosan – which is a key ingredient in most consumer products claiming to be “antibacterial” – should have to prove that products with triclosan are really more effective than using regular soap.

Triclosan has become controversial for both health and environmental reasons. Some public health advocates claim that the compound poses a health risk – and cite as evidence a 2010 study linking high exposure to triclosan with increased incidence of hay fever in children. 

Health experts are also concerned that heavy use of antibacterial consumer products may be cause a rising occurrence of drug-resistant bacteria.

Many environmentalists, meanwhile, claim that triclosan is toxic to certain naturally-occurring bacteria, and thus can upset nature’s balance when it is washed into the environment.

While the FDA has triclosan under review, the Administration admits that there is no current proof that the compound poses an elevated health risk. Instead, the FDA seems to be simply questioning its effectiveness in protecting human health.

So, does the use of “anti-bacterial” soaps really do a better job of protecting your health than washing with plain soap and water? The aforementioned industry groups claim it does, some consumer groups claim it doesn’t, and the FDA is saying “put up or shut up” to manufacturers of consumer products containing triclosan.

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