Antimicrobial ingredients are added to a wide range of personal care and cleaning products to kill the germs, and, so we think, keep us safe. The reality is that the widespread use of these ingredients—most notably triclosan and triclocarban—is thought to contribute to the increase in antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. Dr. Smith and I have blogged about it before.
A recent study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials investigated the presence of these ingredients in Minnesota waterways. Because these compounds persist in the environment for decades, concern has been raised that they may buildup in water faster than they break down. “This study underscores the extent to which additives of antimicrobial consumer products are polluting freshwater environments in the US; it also shows natural degradation processes to be too slow to counter the continuous environmental release of these endocrine disrupting chemicals,” stated the researchers. Oh that’s right—these chemicals also disrupt hormone (endocrine) function, as if they weren’t causing enough damage.
The main way these antimicrobials enter our waterways is through the release of treated waste water. Waste water is treated all over the country, so this contamination is not unique to Minnesota. My hope is that regulations will eventually be put in place against these toxins, but in the meantime, please check the products you use. Ditch the antimicrobial soap (it doesn’t work better than proper hand washing, anyway) and opt for products that do not needlessly contain antimicrobials. And don’t forget the hygiene hypothesis.