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Mae Wu’s Blog

Minnesota is Protecting Its 10,000 Lakes

Mae Wu

Posted May 21, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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Back in college, I had a good friend we called Big Dan from Minnesota. He was very proud of Minnesota. The things I knew about Minnesota back then all came from Big Dan: it’s the birthplace of Prince, Tonka trucks are from Minnetonka, and Minnesotans pronounce “out” a lot differently from me.  

Last week, Minnesota added another reason for Big Dan to be proud: the state is banning triclosan in cleaning products and personal care products, which goes into effect January 1, 2017. This goes after the uses of triclosan in the home, work, restaurants, and other places that we visit with our families all the time.

Triclosan is a very common chemical that is found in many consumer products – from antibacterial soap to toothpaste to cutting boards.  Studies found that more than 75 percent of people sampled have triclosan in their urine. It doesn’t discriminate by gender or race, but does seem to increase as income increases.

Triclosan is also ubiquitous in the environment. One of the reasons Minnesota passed this ban was because of research showing rising levels of triclosan in local lakes.

Why is this bad? As my colleague Dr. Maricel Maffini and I recently explained in Scientific American, triclosan is not safe.

In animal studies it has been shown to interfere with the regulation of thyroid hormones (affecting metabolism and brain development), testosterone synthesis (decreasing sperm counts) and estrogen action (causing early onset of puberty). Exposure to triclosan has been shown to weaken heart muscle, impairing contractions and reducing heart function, and to weaken skeletal muscle, reducing grip strength. In aquatic environments fish exposed to triclosan were unable to swim properly.

In response to an NRDC lawsuit, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed to not allow triclosan in hand soaps because there is no evidence that they are safe or effective.

That’s right. Not only is triclosan not safe, but antibacterial soaps are also no more effective than regular soap.

FDA is accepting comments on this rule through June 16, 2014. To support FDA’s proposal, go to this link to comment. This rule will be finalized by September 2016 and will rid hand soaps of these unnecessary toxic chemicals.

Back to Minnesota's ban. According to news reports, the cleaning products trade associations are all up in arms about Minnesota’s ban. But many companies already see the writing on the wall and are getting out of the triclosan business. Proctor & Gamble, Wal-mart, and Johnson & Johnson are just some of the companies that have pledged to get triclosan out of their products.

So here’s a big thank you to your Minnesota, Big Dan.  And here’s hoping that other states and companies follow along and stop these stupid uses of a toxic chemical.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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