The Food and Drug Administration is being forced by a recent court ruling to look at the safety and effectiveness of triclosan — a common ingredient in antibacterial hand soap, body wash, toothpaste and other household products, as well as a suspected toxin.
According to the ruling, which followed a lawsuit brought against the FDA by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the agency has until 2016 to determine whether or not triclosan is dangerous. This is the first serious review of triclosan since 1978, when the FDA failed to make a determination. The agency must now decide whether the chemical is both safe and effective, either safe or effective, or neither.
Currently, the FDA says that although triclosan has been shown to alter hormone regulation in animals, it is “not known to be hazardous to humans.”
According to the NRDC and other consumer groups, however, triclosan is believed to be an endocrine disruptor — meaning it messes with hormone production and regulation — and may cause neurological damage. The NRDC points to infertility in adults, developmental problems in children, weakened muscle function, worsened allergies, and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria as possible consequences of triclosan use.
When it comes to effectiveness, triclosan in toothpaste has been shown to help fight gingivitis, but the FDA states that there is no evidence that antibacterial soap is any better than regular soap and water.
“It’s outrageous that FDA has waited 35 years to protect the public from this harmful chemical,” NRDC attorney Mae Wu said in a statement, calling for the outright prohibition of triclosan in FDA-regulated products.
Triclosan is also found in products regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These include household cleaners, insecticides and mildew suppressants, and would not be impacted by a decision by the FDA.