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Dirty little secrets: Neither antibacterial soaps nor the FDA help us.

Mae Wu

Posted August 21, 2011

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This just in from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Keep waiting.”

I was on the FDA website the other day, and it seems the FDA has quietly made a small change to a webpage that has big implications for all of us.  In a 37-year history of delays, FDA is again delaying protecting us from potentially unsafe chemicals in antibacterial soaps.

Back in April, 2010, FDA announced that it was studying the safety of triclosan (the chemical used in antibacterial soaps). It promised to communicate its findings to the public in spring, 2011. But with no public announcement, FDA recently edited the page to say that it would communicate its findings in the winter, 2012. Check it out for yourself: here’s a link to the page as it appeared when we filed our lawsuit this past summer and here’s a link to the webpage from today.

No explanation of why it needs the extra year and a half. No update on what it’s done so far. Nothing.

Mounting evidence shows that antibacterial soaps containing the chemicals triclosan and triclocarban are neither safe nor effective. In lawyer speak, that is a death sentence for any product awaiting FDA approval. But for the past 37 years, FDA has done nothing to protect us from these products. Neither pressure from a U.S. Congressman nor a lawsuit by NRDC has been enough to push the FDA. And now FDA is giving itself another extension. We’re taking note – and so has the New York Times.

Now, citizens are trying to pick up where the FDA left off. A citizen suit was filed last September against Dial under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act.  

We’ve all seen them. Ads for antibacterial soaps scream “Stop the spread of bacteria!” “Protect your family!” Bottles of antibacterial soap on the store shelf are stamped with “Kills 99.9% of germs!”  And it seems obvious. Why not buy the soap that gives us an added layer of protection from the scary bugs that are attacking us every day?

Why not? Because, behind all those scary ads and pretty packaging, they are hiding a little secret: we don’t actually need them.

Antibacterial soaps are no better than regular soap. Scientific studies have shown that. The FDA has admitted that.

Even more important, the very chemicals that make those soaps “antibacterial” might actually be hurting us. Laboratory studies have shown that both triclosan and triclocarban can interfere with hormones, especially those most important for proper growth and reproduction. 

If that isn’t enough, triclosan and triclocarban have also been tied to contributing to antibiotic resistance (that is, the rise of superbugs). The problem of antibiotic resistance means that when doctors prescribe an antibiotic to treat an infection, there is a growing chance that it won’t work. This is bad news for everyone.

How many more lawsuits is it going to take before FDA figures it out? FDA, stop covering up your delays, and start acting now. Get these products off our shelves. Protect us. Protect our families.

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Elizabeth O'NanAug 22 2011 02:07 AM

Another scary aspect of these chemie doo das is that the doctors and nurses are using them in leu of washing their hands in hospitals now. Don't dare ask them to wash or you might suffer retribution. It seems at least the doctors should know about this or is it like other pesticides, people just don't care as long as it is easier, it really doesn't have to work.

Dave BiggieAug 22 2011 10:15 AM

What's going on with the NRDC's lawsuit? A year later and the FDA is just continuing to stall.

Mae WuAug 22 2011 10:43 AM

Hi, thanks for your question. We are in the appeals process now, because the case was dismissed for lack of standing. Yes, it is another delay, but we will keep pressing.

kimberly barefootAug 22 2011 05:25 PM

Even more disturbing, triclosan is in Colgate Total toothpaste.

ErinAug 23 2011 12:46 AM

First of all, NRDC, you guys keep rocking my freaking socks! Seriously. So glad you are in existence.

What scares the heck out of me is that the more and more I read, the more I realize these "regulatory departments" are utterly bogus. The FDA has allowed chemicals into our food, & daily products, everywhere we turn. GMO's, BPA's, corn syrup, procssed foods, pesticides, now this?

I have come to the conclusion that Big Chemical is in bed with Big Agriculture, who is in bed with Big Petroleum, who is in bed with Big Pharma. They are poisoning our food, products, air, soil, water and they KNOW IT, they are profiting from it and they are profiting from us when we get sick and die.

Americans and the rest of Humanity need to WAKE UP to this, we need to file one big multi-million person lawsuit against the CEO's of ALL corporations involved in this. For example, every CEO at coal plants need to be sued for the mass-murder of thousands of unborn babies lost in miscarriages, due to pollution.

Sorry for the long note. Keep up the good work. If I can volunteer in NYC, I'm there in a heartbeat.

Robyn StoneAug 23 2011 01:03 PM

Alcohol based scrubs are completely different from anti-bacterial hand soaps. Get your facts straight before you bash all medical professionals. It's not called lazy, it's called reducing the rate of infection!

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