Antibacterial Compounds Pose Risk During Pregnancy—How to Avoid Them

We are a germ-fearing society. From antibacterial soaps, wipes, cleaners, and ointments to hand sanitizer and antimicrobial bedding, we are trying—literally—to wipe ourselves free of all the germs. What could all this sanitization be doing to our health, some researchers have asked? As it turns out, a lot.

One compound in particular—triclosan—is found in many everyday items such as soaps, towels, mattresses, sponges, personal care products, shower curtains, toothbrushes, phones, kitchenware, shoes, flooring, cutting boards, clothing, fabrics, and toys that are labeled “antimicrobial” or that are labeled as “odor-fighting” or “keeps food fresher, longer,” according to the Environmental Working Group.

In a recent study presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, researchers investigated the exposure of pregnant women to triclosan and triclocarban, two of the most common antimicrobial compounds in use in everyday products.

“We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened,” stated Benny Pycke, PhD, one of the researchers. “We also detected it in about half of the umbilical cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses.”

Evidence is mounting against these compounds, which have been found to lead to developmental and reproductive problems in animals and linked to health problems in humans.

“If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but the truth is that we have universal use of these chemicals, and therefore also universal exposure,” noted Rolf Halden, PhD, lead researcher.

More than 2,000 everyday products contain these chemicals, which highlights how widespread the exposure is. Minnesota has taken offense, and has passed a ban on triclosan use in certain products that will take effect in January, 2017. Some companies are also phasing out the use of the compound, but more needs to be done to reduce our exposure. In the meantime, you can choose to buy products that do not contain these ingredients. Use EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database to be sure that you are buying products that don’t contain triclosan or triclocarban.

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