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It’s a chemical that’s been in North American households for more than 40 years, from the body wash in your bathroom shower to the knives on your kitchen counter to the bedding in your baby’s basinet.
But U.S. federal health regulators are just now deciding whether triclosan — the germ-killing ingredient found in an estimated 75 per cent of antibacterial liquid soaps and body washes sold in the U.S. — is ineffective, or worse, harmful.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to deliver a review this year of whether triclosan is safe. The ruling, which will determine whether triclosan continues to be used in household cleaners, could have implications for a $1 billion industry that includes hundreds of antibacterial products from toothpaste to toys.
The concerns over triclosan offer a sobering glimpse at a little-known fact: Many chemicals used in everyday household products have never been formally approved by U.S. health regulators. That’s because many germ-killing chemicals were developed decades ago before there were laws requiring scientific review of cleaning ingredients.
In 1978, the FDA published its first tentative guidelines for chemicals used in liquid hand soaps and washes. The draft stated that triclosan was “not generally recognized as safe and effective,” because regulators could not find enough scientific research demonstrating its safety and effectiveness.
Then, last summer, the FDA said its review of triclosan would be complete by late 2012. That target date then slipped to February, which has also come and gone. But pressure on the agency from outside critics didn’t let up.
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