Triclosan: Lurking where you least expect it

This post by EWG research intern Natalia is a follow-up to last week's post Antibacterial: Not just for soap anymore. For more on how to avoid triclosan, check out this cheatsheet.

It might be in your toothbrush. Your socks. Your child's rattle.

Then again - it might not be. But do you know for sure?

In my last post I touched on some of the environmental hazards of antimicrobials such as triclosan, a general-purpose antifungal and antibacterial chemical found in many personal care products, plastics, and textiles.

However, one of the most worrying things about these chemicals is that while we know how potentially harmful their effects can be, both for the environment and our own health, it's surprisingly difficult to find information on the products which actually contain these compounds.

In some cases, manufacturers are honest about the antimicrobials they use, but quietly bury their names in the small print of the ingredients labels in a variety of everyday products. To name just a few surprising examples: Colgate Total toothpastes, Clearasil Pimple Treatment Cream, and Right Guard Sport Deodorant all contain triclosan.

In other cases, it can be nearly impossible to determine which products contain antimicrobial agents such as triclosan. Increasing numbers of manufacturers now label products as "antibacterial" without specifying the specific chemicals used. The problem becomes more even complicated when companies play shell games to disguise which of their products contain antimicrobial compounds. A prime example of this is the Microban Product Company.

Contrary to popular belief, triclosan is not the same as Microban. Triclosan is officially registered under the EPA as "Microban additive B" - that is to say, any given product sold under the Microban trade name does not necessarily contain triclosan. Which antimicrobial agent is being used for those products, however, the company will not disclose: it could quite literally be anything!

As concern about environmental issues grows, more and more consumers are trying to make responsible, environmentally-friendly choices in their shopping. Unfortunately, this change cannot happen if companies aren't fully transparent in labeling their products.

Don't let advertising gimmicks hide important information about products and the chemicals they contain! You have a right to know what's in the products you buy. Join us in calling for complete industry disclosure in product labeling - because the choice should be in your hands, not made for you.

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