Tags: antibacterial | water | soap

Antibacterials Turning up in Waterways

Friday, 17 August 2012 03:03 PM

The rising use of antibacterial personal-care and cleaning products – from soaps to disinfectants and sanitizers – may be sullying the nation's waterways, a new study shows.
A team of scientists from Arizona State University, in collaboration with federal officials, has found widespread evidence that active ingredients from personal-care products are turning up in Minnesota lakes, streams and rivers.
These products constitute a $1 billion dollar industry, with hundreds of antimicrobial goods marketed with largely unsubstantiated claims of being more effective than typical soap and water, researchers noted. But the chemicals they can contain end up flowing from homes and other places where they are used to sewers and wastewater treatment plants, and eventually end up downstream in waterways.
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The new study focused on two active ingredients found in antibacterial soaps: triclosan and triclocarban. Both are being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency for possible environmental and human health concerns. These compounds persist for decades in the environment, and are among the top ten pharmaceuticals and personal care products most frequently found in the environment and in U.S. drinking water resources.
"This study underscores the extent to which additives of antimicrobial consumer products are polluting freshwater environments in the U.S.,” said Rolf Halden, director of Environmental Security at ASU’s Biodesign Institute. “It also shows natural degradation processes to be too slow to counter the continuous environmental release of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”
In a previous study, Halden's team found significant concentrations of harmful soap-related chemicals dating back to the 1950s in sediments of Jamaica Bay and Chesapeake Bay, into which New York City and Baltimore discharge their treated domestic wastewater.
The U.S. Geological Survey has found 80 percent of 139 streams sampled from across 30 U.S. states contain measurable levels of organic wastewater contaminants. The human health risks associated with these personal care product chemicals are still not fully understood, researchers noted.
For the new ASU study, sediment samples from 12 waterways upstream and downstream of wastewater treatment plants were analyzed for the presence of antimicrobial compounds. The results showed that overall concentrations of triclocarban were three to 58 times higher than those of the more frequently monitored triclosan.
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Halden said the findings have implications that extend well beyond the borders of Minnesota. "Regulatory agencies are aware of the overuse of antimicrobials but no state or federal restrictions have been implemented yet for either triclosan or triclocarban," said Halden. "Aside from ecological concerns, widespread environmental occurrence of antimicrobials also is a potential public health concern because unwarranted use of antimicrobials can promote drug resistance of human pathogens."
Halden said his research suggests consumers should limit their use of antimicrobial personal care products that, ironically, provide no measurable health benefits to the average consumer and are no better than soap and water, as determined by an expert panel convened by the FDA in 2005.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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The rising use of antibacterial soaps and other products may be sullying the nation's waterways.
Friday, 17 August 2012 03:03 PM
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