On Friday the 2nd, the United States Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of soaps containing 19 different antibacterial chemicals, asserting that the industry had failed to prove that they were either safe for long term use, or any more effective than using ordinary soap and water. These companies have one year to remove these chemicals from their products, or they will be taken off the market. About 40 percent of all soaps contain these chemicals, with triclosan and triclocarban the most common culprits in liquid soap and bar soap respectively. The FDA ruling will apply to consumer hand soaps, while other products such as toothpaste may still be allowed to use these chemicals. The FDA is taking a similarly hard look at hand sanitizers and wipes, requesting data from the industry on ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, and benzalkonium chloride.

The FDA ban follows years of increasing public health concerns that long term harm from use of these chemicals outweighs any possible benefit. Health experts such as the National Resources Defense Council have made a two-pronged argument against the widespread use of such chemicals. On the one hand, it can disrupt the endocrine system, interfering with important hormonal functions. Triclosan can disrupt thyroid, testosterone, and estrogen regulation, which can lead to issues such as early puberty, low sperm quality, infertility, obesity, and even cancer. Studies have also shown that it can cause impaired learning and memory, and exacerbate allergies. In addition to these health concerns, research has shown that chemicals like triclosan are no more effective at reducing bacteria or preventing illness than traditional soap and water.

Furthermore, antibacterial chemicals have been shown to promote drug-resistant infections.

To make matters worse, studies have shown that triclocarban takes a very long time to disappear from the environment. One study found traces of the chemical in New York City that dated back to the 1960s. Scientists have also pointed out that these chemicals are now found in breast milk, urine, blood, newborn babies, dust and water.

A trade group, the American Cleaning Institute has opposed the ban, but a number of the largest producers of these products have already started removing these chemicals in response to rising consumer demand. Before the ban was finalized, Johnson and Johnson and Procter and Gamble both announced plans to phase out the use of these chemicals in their products.

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