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Minnesota Becomes the First State to Ban Controversial Anti-Bacterial Soap Ingredient

This article was originally published by OnEarth magazine


A soap that makes you sick? You might be scrubbing with one, if you buy many of the liquid antibacterial soaps currently on the market. Those soaps contain an ingredient called triclosan that doesn’t work as advertised and instead could be harmful to your health (see “Safe Suds or Snake Oil?”).

Now Minnesota has become the first state in the nation to ban the chemical from personal hygiene products, including soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and mouthwash. The ban takes effect in 2017 and could be the next big step toward eliminating triclosan all over the country. Some companies like Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson were already phasing it out due to consumer pressure.

What’s so bad about triclosan, anyway? Well, lots. It’s an endocrine-disrupting chemical, meaning it alters hormones. Studies show that triclosan changes sex hormones in lab animals and interferes with the thyroid hormone in frogs and rats. Using it could also cause bacteria to become antibiotic resistant. Even though the federal government has known about some of these concerns for decades—and even recommended taking the chemical out of hospital scrubs and hand soaps … back in 1978—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only took action last year.

That move was the result of a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth) to force the agency to decide on triclosan’s safety. As a result, the FDA announced in December that it would require manufacturers to prove that triclosan is safe and works better than plain old soap and water. (More than two dozen independent studies show that it doesn’t.)

Despite the voluntary action by some companies to get rid of it, triclosan remains in 75 percent of all liquid soaps and body washes lining store shelves. Lawmakers in Minnesota hope their legislation will spur a clean break—one that’s been a long time coming.

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