Minnesota has become the first state to ban a potentially risky chemical that’s commonly found in antibacterial hand soap, body wash, toothpaste, cosmetics, and household cleaners. It’s not because the state wants to undermine cleanliness. Lawmakers are trying to pressure manufacturers across the country to do away with the chemical, known as triclosan, because there’s evidence it could be hazardous to the environment without actually offering any public health benefits.
This may not sound like the most exciting policy development — but it’s actually the culmination of more than three decades of pressure to crack down on the controversial ingredient, which is now included in at least 2,000 individual products on the market.
Triclosan was first developed in the 1960s to disinfect hospitals, and now, it’s added to products to give the impression they’re a better alternative to soap and water. But that’s not actually the case. The Food and Drug Administration acknowledges that “the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.”
Furthermore, multiple studies have found that triclosan may disrupt hormones, impair muscle function, and contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistance. University of Minnesota researchers found that increasing amounts of triclosan in lakes and rivers could be contributing to harmful toxins. While the chemical hasn’t been definitively proven to be harmful to humans, consumer advocates argue that it’s not worth taking the risk considering the fact that it doesn’t offer any benefits.
Nonetheless, the chemical has become incredibly common over the past several decades, as the FDA has dragged its feet on finalizing guidelines to regulate it. A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that triclosan was detected in the urine of nearly 75 percent of the participants.
In the absence of FDA rules — the federal agency is notoriously slow to regulate potentially harmful substances, and is currently asking companies that use triclosan to submit evidence that their products are safe — lawmakers in Minnesota decided to take matters into their own hands. The new law, which was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D) on Friday, bans the use of triclosan in cleaning products sold in the state.
Minnesota’s law won’t take effect until 2017, so it’s not an immediate fix. But the lawmakers who pushed for it hope that it will help nudge other states, as well as the federal government, in the right direction. There’s already some evidence that public pressure can have this effect. Companies like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Avon have begun to phase out triclosan products.
“While this is an effort to ban triclosan from one of the 50 states, I think it will have a greater impact than that,” state Sen. John Marty (D), who sponsored the legislation, told the Associated Press. Marty believes that more manufacturers will stop using the chemical on their own even before the law officially takes effect.
“I think one day we’re going to look back and say, why didn’t we do this much sooner?” Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, pointed out in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio.