(Beyond Pesticides, August 17, 2012)
Part of an increasing trend, health care and cosmetics giant Johnson and Johnson has announced that it will soon begin phasing out a number of potentially dangerous chemicals from its personal care brands, including the antibacterial triclosan. Beyond Pesticides and other groups, which have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove triclosan from a vast array of consumer products, have urged companies like Johnson and Johnson to take action on the pesticide in the face of inadequate regulation to protect human health and the environment.
Along with other chemicals such as formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane, the company cites consumer concern over the safety of triclosan as among its reasons for the alteration in its products. While the company downplayed any need for concern over the safety of triclosan, it also hinted that it was uncomfortable with growing body of science linking triclosan to a number of health concerns. The phase out is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2015.
On a website the company developed specifically regarding the chemical phase out, it stated, in part,
“In recent years, some questions have been raised about the potential environmental impact of triclosan. And some have questioned whether its use may promote the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While current science has not demonstrated evidence for these concerns, the issues will be studied further and are likely to be discussed for some time… Despite triclosan having a long and extensive history of safe use, we want you to have peace of mind. So we have set a goal to phase out triclosan in our beauty and baby care products. We have made significant progress in developing alternatives that will allow us to replace triclosan.”
Although Johnson and Johnson publicly denies the evidence that triclosan can pose serious risks for human health, research is increasingly revealing its many causes for concern. Recently, researchers from the University of California at Davis and the University of Colorado found that the chemical impairs muscle function in fish and mice and stated the results they found show “strong evidence that triclosan could have effects on animal and human health at current levels of exposure.” Beyond Pesticides has provided more extensive documentation of the potential human and environmental health effects of triclosan and its cousin triclocarban. Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones and possibly fetal development. It is also shown to alter thyroid function, and other studies have found that due to its extensive use in consumer goods, triclosan and its metabolites contaminate waterways and are present in fish, umbilical cord blood and human milk. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found that triclosan is present in the urine of 75% of the U.S. population, with concentrations that have increased by 50% since 2004.
Johnson and Johnson did not provide a list of which of its products contain triclosan, but some of the company’s personal care brands include Aveeno, Neutrogeena, RoC, Clean & Clear, and Lubriderm. A partial list of consumer products known to contain triclosan can be found on Beyond Pesticides’ Antibacterials page. Triclosan is present in hundreds of consumer products ranging from antibacterial soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, cosmetics, fabrics, toys, and other household and personal care products, appearing in some of these products in a formulation known as Microban. Be sure to always read the ingredient list on the label of any personal care product or product that is labeled as “antimicrobial” that you use or consider buying.
Last Year, Colgate-Palmolive announced that it would be reformulating its products to remove triclosan from its product line, including dish soaps, hand soaps, and toothpastes. Similarly, major retailers like Staples, the world’s largest office products company, are also beginning to identify “bad actor” chemicals whose future use in the products they carry will be reconsidered. In 2010, Staples announced a new sustainability strategy for products and packaging, characterizing it as a “Race to the Top” challenge for its key suppliers. The strategy’s initial priority includes collaboratively developed scorecards for both products and packaging. Staples hopes to begin conservations with its suppliers about the possibility of removing these “bad actors” from products and to replace them with alternatives. Among these “bad actor” chemicals is triclosan, along with the pesticides permethrin, and propoxur.
Beyond Pesticides, in partnership with Food and Water Watch and 80 other groups, submitted petitions to both the FDA and the EPA in 2009 and 2010 requiring that they end the use of all non-medically prescribed triclosan uses on the basis that those uses violate numerous federal statutes. Echoing these petitions, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) also submitted letters of concern to both EPA and FDA. In FDA’s response, the agency acknowledged that soaps containing triclosan offer no additional benefit over regular soap and water. FDA stated that “existing data raise valid concerns about the [health] effects of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients” and announced plans to address the use of triclosan in cosmetics or other products. FDA also expressed concern about the development of antibiotic resistance from using antibacterial products and about triclosan’s potential long-term health effects. Additionally, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) and two colleagues asked FDA to ban triclosan in 2010 due to the hazards that the chemical poses, including antibiotic resistance and potential health problems leading to higher health care costs.
In March, Canadian officials announced that they are set to declare triclosan toxic to the environment, an action which triggers a process to find ways to curtail a chemical’s use, including a possible ban in a range of personal-care products.