New FDA Rule for Antibacterial Soap is Important Step, More Action Needed

Washington, D.C. ­ The Food and Drug Administration's proposal to require manufacturers to prove antibacterial hand soaps are safe and better than plain soap and water is a sign that the agency is finally “cracking down on the widespread use of ingredients that may be harmful to public health,” EWG said in a statement today.

“This is an important first step, and one that is long overdue,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s research director. “Antibacterial soaps, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. We now urge the FDA and other federal agencies to turn their attention to the thousands of other consumer products – cutting boards, toothpaste, household cleaners and socks -- that contain these controversial antibacterial ingredients.”

EWG has long recommended that consumers wash with plain soap and water and avoid products labeled “antibacterial” because they provide no benefit and due to safety concerns that ingredients such as triclosan may disrupt the body’s endocrine system. Manufacturers have not yet produced compelling evidence that these chemicals provide any additional germ protection.

The FDA proposal would cover 22 antibacterial ingredients, primarily triclosan in liquid hand soap and triclocarban in bar soap.  After a 180-day comment period, the FDA plans to move forward with a regulation that would give manufacturers up to one year to remove products with these ingredients from the market.

EWG has been at the forefront of efforts to limit the use of triclosan and its groundbreaking research has shown that human and environmental exposure to triclosan is widespread. Triclosan has been found in the urine of more than 75 percent of the population is one of the most frequently detected chemicals in lakes, rivers and streams across the U.S. A 2008 EWG study revealed the presence of triclosan in the bodies of 20 out of 20 American girls aged 14 to 19.

There are also long standing concerns that the use of antibacterial chemicals could lead to the rise of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The FDA’s announcement comes one week after the agency released new guidelines aimed at reducing the amount of antibiotics used in livestock that have been criticized as being too weak. 

"While these two decisions indicate that the agency is making strides in reducing the use of chemicals that can result in antibiotic-resistant superbugs, the agency must take much stronger action in the future if we are truly going to tackle the serious public health concerns about antibiotic resistant bacteria,” said Sharp.

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