“We looked at the exposure of pregnant women and their fetuses to triclosan and triclocarban, two of the most commonly used germ-killers in soaps and other everyday products,” said Benny Pycke, Ph.D., a research scientist at Arizona State University (ASU). “We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened. We also detected it in about half of the umbilical cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses. Triclocarban was also in many of the samples.”
The problem with this, according to Pycke, is that there is a growing body of evidence showing that the compounds can lead to developmental and reproductive problems in animals and potentially in humans. Also, some research suggests that the additives could contribute to antibiotic resistance, a growing public health problem. Although the human body is efficient at flushing out triclosan and triclocarban, a person’s exposure to them can potentially be constant.
“If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but the truth is that we have universal use of these chemicals, and therefore also universal exposure,” said Rolf Halden, Ph.D., the lead investigator of the study at ASU.
The compounds are used in more than 2,000 everyday products marketed as antimicrobial, including toothpastes, soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, school supplies and toys, the researchers say.
Showing what effect antimicrobials have on people is a challenge.
Halden and Pycke’s colleague Laura Geer, Ph.D., of the State University of New York, found at least one interesting result.
Geer says the study yielded a link between women with higher levels of another ubiquitous antimicrobial, butyl paraben, which is commonly used in cosmetics, and shorter newborn lengths. The long-term consequences of this are not clear, but Geer adds that, if this finding is confirmed in larger studies, it could mean that widespread exposure to these compounds could cause a subtle but large-scale shift in birth sizes.
Pycke, Halden and Geer acknowledged funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and non-profit New York Community Trust.
Some of the researchers’ public comments, and well as news media headlines about the research, may mislead the public about the ingredients’ safety, said sources at the American Cleaning Institute (ACI).
“The levels of these ingredients they found are extremely small and are excreted from the body,” said Dr. Paul DeLeo, ACI associate vice president of Environmental Safety. “There’s a wide margin of safety between these levels and the levels deemed unsafe based on standard safety evaluation.”
DeLeo continued, “The weight of evidence supports the conclusion that these ingredients are not causing adverse effects on the endocrine system. The continued ‘suggestions’ that the presence of these substances are leading to health risks are not borne out by the data and years of safe use by consumers.”