Cancer or Germs? I'll take the germs.

I must admit that in my house we might be thought to be a little lax when it comes to germs. I am not saying that we don’t wash our hands when we go to the bathroom or before we eat. We play in the yard digging for bugs and worms and get big slobbery kisses from our dog. We are not afraid of dirt, and follow the “five second rule”. That said, we are a very clean family. We focus on washing our hands to ensure that there is no, as my 2 year-old says, “durt” when we touch food.

Now, I have never been big on anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizer because I believe that we need to build up our immunity to bacteria and viruses to make us stronger. When the kids were infants I did use these types of cleaning products but now that they are older, these products are basically non-existent in our house.

So when I was asked to test out a new, natural, non-toxic hand sanitizer, I was little disinterested, but began a dialog with the company because I was willing to learn more. One of the key points of this new product was they do not use triclosan, a widely used anti-bacterial agent.

What is triclosan you ask? Well, this is what I learned, and it is not a pleasant story…

Triclosan is antimicrobial and antifungal pesticide that is used in a wide variety of products found in retail stores across the country including soaps, toothpastes, cosmetics, deodorants, personal care products, first aid, kitchenware, computer electronics, toys, plastics, paints and clothing. It is widely known as Microban which is infused into everything from cutting boards, pillows and shoes because it inhibits the growth of microbes, such as bacteria, mold and mildew. Ok, that does not sound that bad…yet.

However, according to Beyond Pesticides, a group dedicated to eliminating toxic and harmful pesticides from our environment, “Studies have increasingly linked one of the most common antimicrobial, triclosan (and its chemical cousin triclocarban), to a range of adverse health and environmental effects, from skin irritation, allergy susceptibility, bacterial and compounded antibiotic resistance, tainted water, and dioxin contamination to destruction of fragile aquatic ecosystems.”

As explained on Wikipedia:

During wastewater treatment, a portion of triclosan is degraded while the remaining adsorbs to sewage sludge or exits the plant in wastewater effluent. In the environment, triclosan may be degraded by microorganisms or react with sunlight forming other compounds which may include chlorophenols and dioxin, or it may adsorb to particles that settle out of the water column and form sediment. Triclosan was found in Greifensee, a small lake in Switzerland, sediment that was over 30 years old, suggesting that triclosan is degraded or removed slowly in sediment.

Whoa….wait a minute, Triclosan degrades into dioxins and chlorophenols, both are known carcinogens. Studies have shown that ultraviolet light converts triclosan to dioxins and it is believed that sunlight could transform triclosan to dioxins naturally. Scientist at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA tested 16 products including soaps, lotions and body wash with triclosan and without. They discovered that the triclosan products reacted with chlorinated water to produce chloroform, another carcinogen. So this stuff breaks down into cancer causing agents. I think we’ll keep our hands a bit dirtier and live longer.

In a press release from the Environmental Working Group, the organization states:

Triclosan has been linked to cancer in lab animals, has been targeted for removal from some stores in Europe for its health and environmental risks, and the American Medical Association recommends against its use in the home. It is also linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, and low levels of triclosan may disrupt the thyroid hormone system. Thyroid hormones are essential to proper growth and development, particularly for brain growth in utero and during infancy.

Triclosan breaks down into very toxic chemicals, including a form of dioxin; methyl triclosan, which is acutely toxic to aquatic life; and chloroform, a carcinogen formed when triclosan mixes with tap water that has been treated with chlorine. Scientists surveyed 85 U.S. rivers and streams, and found traces of triclosan in more than half.

Just last month, Beyond Pesticides, along with Food and Water Watch, Greenpeace US, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and dozens of public health and environmental groups filed a comment/letter with the Environmental Protection Agency, urging the the agency to stop all non-medical use of triclosan because of its detrimental effects on our health and the environment. You can read the press release and comments submitted to the EPA by clicking here [PDF] and here [PDF].

Total with triclosanAs I mentioned, triclosan can be found in many, many everyday products. To see a detailed list of products and brands, check out the list on Beyond Pesticides by clicking here. Some very well known brands are on the list like Colgate Total toothpaste. Toothpaste? How scary is that? You are putting triclosan and therefore carcinogens directly into your mouth and your body! So rinse and spit, and now you have chloroform. The Colgate website touts: “Colgate Total® formula is so revolutionary it’s even patented. One of its active ingredients is triclosan, which is used to help prevent plaque and gingivitis. The formula’s copolymer enables triclosan to continue working in the mouth for 12 hours.” Great! So use this toothpaste and triclosan will stay in your mouth for 12 hours! That’s 12 more hours of exposure to a potential cancer causing agent than I want.
Clean Well, triclosan free hand sanitizersSo how do we get rid of those unwanted germs when we really need to? Well let’s go back to that product I dismissed at first. It is called Clean Well made from Ingenium, a natural germ killing product derived from thyme and other essential oils. According to the company, Clean Well kills 99.99% of germs on contact including E. Coli, Salmonella, Staph (MRSA) and Pseudomonas. Clean Well is made from a renewable resource that is sustainably grown with no pesticides, irrigation or fertilizer and there are no toxic byproducts from the manufacturing process. Clean Well comes in a spray, as hand wipes and hand wash foam. So for when you have a house full of sick kids or are cooking with chicken and want to kill germs, you know can avoid triclosan.

To read more about triclosan check out the Environmental Working Group site where they give detailed information on the effects of triclosan on our health and the environment, what products contain triclosan and much, much more.

Those germs don’t look so bad anymore….so are you gonna give up your anti-bacterial soaps, or are you gonna to keep on using triclosan-based products?

To read more of my post, check out my blog, Green Luvin’.