Scientists recently reported that many pregnant women and their fetuses are being exposed to possible health problems linked to antibacterial products. The research, presented at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), is yet unpublished, but compelling. Specifically, the researchers took a closer look at how exposure to triclosan and triclocarban, two of the most commonly used antibacterials (germ-killers) in soaps and other products are affecting pregnant women and their fetuses. Benny Pycke, Ph.D. says, “We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened. We also detected it in about half of the umbilical cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses. Triclocarban was also in many of the samples.” Because there’s a huge growing body of evidence that shows how these antibacterials often lead to developmental and reproductive problems in animals, the researchers are concerned that this means humans are potentially at risk for the same health issues. The bigger problem of antibacterial use, of course, is that they contribute to antibiotic resistance, an actual growing public health problem. Because antibacterial compounds are used in more than 2,000 everyday products, including toothpastes, soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, school supplies and toys, we’re looking at an almost universal exposure rate for humans.
According to the new research, it can be difficult to nail down the exact effect antimicrobials have on people, but study co-author Laura Geer, Ph.D., of the State University of New York, does say that the study showed a clear link between women with higher levels of another ubiquitous antimicrobial, butyl paraben, which is commonly used in cosmetics, and shorter newborn lengths. Although long-term consequences of this exposure are unclear, Geer does note that, “if this finding is confirmed in larger studies, it could mean that widespread exposure to these compounds could cause a subtle but large-scale shift in birth sizes.” Right now, very little is being done about antibacterial use in the United States. The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency are reviewing how antibacterials may effect human health, but it’s unlikely there will be a government ban of these compounds, considering the other harmful compounds the government approves for use around humans. Minnesota is the first state that has passed a ban on the use of antimicrobials in certain products, but the ban won’t take effect until January 2017. Companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, have said that they’re phasing out antibacterials in some products, but who knows how long that will take, or if it will even happen. At the federal level, the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency are reviewing the use and effects of the compounds.
*Note: this research was presented at the 248th meeting of the American Chemical Society and is yet unpublished.