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'Antibacterial' soap guilty of polluting rivers, lakes

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

"Antibacterial" products are ostensibly used to clean hands and surfaces of bacteria that can cause colds or flu. Used in pump bottles for a quick hand wash, or on treated cloths to clean surfaces, these items are very popular during flu season. However - once these products are washed down the sink, a common ingredient found in them, called triclosan goes on to pollute lakes and streams as it winds its way through the water table.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Triclosan was approved for use in the U.S. in 1964 and has since been added to consumer products in the 1970s. The disinfectant now is omnipresent is such common items like soaps to laundry detergent.

"We are using a chemical to wash our hands, brush our teeth and the like that isn't actually necessary for the function of these products, that's now accumulating in the environment and having potential effects out there," William Arnold, a civil engineering professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul says.

Pulling core samples from the bottom of eight Minnesota lakes, triclosan had been found in the sediment that had built up on the lakebeds.

"And so what we found is the concentration of triclosan was zero before 1964, and that it had increased over time, largely during the 1980s, when antibacterial hand soap came to the market," he said.

More and more triclosan has been washed down the drain with waste water with the popularity of these products, so the most recent sediments show the highest levels of the chemical.

Three chemical derivatives of triclosan are produced when the antibacterial agent is mixed with chlorine during the water purification process. When triclosan and those derivatives are exposed to sunlight, they produce dioxin compounds.

Dioxins then damage the environment and get into the food chain, beginning with algae in lakes.

"People often think of algae on the lake - that's bad - but algae are a very important component in the food chain," Arnold said. "And so if you disrupt that, that's problematic. Triclosan is also known to make its way into fish via bioaccumulation, and so we expect these other compounds would do the same thing."

The problem only gets bigger -- triclosan and its associated chemicals can build up in the ocean, as well as in freshwater lakes.

Furthermore - and this should be taken into account when consumer go to the market -- U.S. regulators have found no evidence that triclosan is any more effective than regular soap and water at killing germs. As an ingredient in toothpaste it can reduce the risk of gum disease. The Canadian government has begun regulating the chemical.

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