Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Heat is On For Triclosan

One of the thirteen indicators included in the State of the River report making headlines these days is the triclosan issue ( Trevor Russell from the Friends of the Mississippi and Lark Weller of the National Park Service who helped spearhead the collection of data and analysis for this report, highlighted these indicators about the health and condition of the Mississippi River at Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District’s Annual Recognition Dinner at the end of January.

What is Triclosan?

Triclosan is an antimicrobial product created for use in health care facilities. The use of this substance has broadened and has more recently become a common ingredient in many household products including soaps, deodorant, toothpaste, fabrics, cosmetics and toys.

What seems to be the problem?

We wash our hands with triclosan-based antibacterial soap, the water goes down the drain, and then to a wastewater treatment facility where it is cleaned before being discharged to the Mississippi River. It’s fine then, right? Not so fast. Triclosan does get broken down as it moves through the wastewater treatment system when it is exposed to chlorine, chemicals and sunlight, but this can cause some of it to become a different family toxic compounds (including carcinogens) called ‘dioxins’ that pose potential threats. Our wastewater treatment facilities are not set up to remove triclosan or its derivatives from the water, meaning it flushes through to the river.  Once there, these chemicals build up, causing potential problems with the animals reliant on the river and downstream waters.

But triclosan is not just going down the drain.  These chemicals, used widely in our households, are building up in us as well. The State of the River report summarizes several statistics of potential human and river environment effects, including a finding that triclosan is present in 75% of Americans over the age of five.*   

According to Bill Arnold, a civil engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering who helped author the report: "It’s important for people to know that what they use in their house every day can have an impact in the environment far beyond their home. Consumers need to know that they may be using products with triclosan. People should read product labels to understand what they are buying."

In the news

Triclosan is making local and national news as scientists, public health workers, lawmakers, and consumers try to make the best decisions with evidence from current research.

The Pioneer Press posted an article in January showing that the University of Minnesota is working hard to get more details on triclosan. The study looking at toxic buildup of triclosan and its derivatives in local lakes and rivers can be found at

 Just this past week, the Star Tribune posted an article showing that Minnesotans are doing more than taking notice. As this article points out, starting in June 2013 Minnesota state agencies have been ordered to stop buying products that contain triclosan. A bill banning triclosan’s use outside of medical settings is expected to be introduced and the Legislature will conduct a hearing on the pros and cons of the chemical. More at

Take home message 
So what are we supposed to do in this (thankfully nearly over) cold and flu season without our trusty antibacterial ingredient?   First off, consider that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that there are no advantages to using antibacterial soap over regular old soap and water (link). Secondly, read up on the sites listed above and go ahead and “Google it.” Take ownership of the issue by considering the evidence you find from reliable sources.  Use that information to make informed decisions about your purchases and your current household stock of items containing triclosan. And finally, follow local papers for more current updates on the legislative hearing. It should be a dynamic debate worthy of paying close attention.
* For more information on this and other statements, see

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