Aug 14 2009
Mother Nature Bats Last – Antibacterial Triclosan found in dolphins – buildup may disrupt dolphin development
“We exist in the bacterial world, not bacteria in ours,”
-Dr. Stuart B. Levy
Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Mother Nature Always Bats Last
These two thoughts ran through my head as I read reports from Environmental Health News that anti-bacterial ingredient triclosan, widely used in soaps, kitchen products and a vast variety of other products, is showing up in dolphins at concentrations known to disrupt the growth and development of other animals.
According to a 2001 study, triclosan is an ingredient in 76% of liquid soaps, and 26% of bar soaps. Triclosan is used in toothpastes, deodorants and shaving cream. Triclosan has been used in pillows, sheets, shoes, and toys.
According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 700 household products contain triclosan. But, the value of triclosan in actually reducing disease transmission is questionable at best. For one thing, overuse of anti-bacterials have been linked to the increase in resistant bacteria.
The data clearly suggest that antibacterial agents will have an impact on the environmental flora and on resistance emergence. For instance, use of triclosan could select bacteria which have intrinsic resistance to the chemical.
We could almost accept the risk if triclosan provided vital health benefits, but..
No current data demonstrate any health benefits from having antibacterial-containing cleansers in a healthy household. However, use of these products may change the environmental microbial flora.
Through mutation, some of their progeny emerge with resistance to the antibacterial agent aimed at it, and possibly to other antimicrobial agents as well.
Bacteria that are resistant to triclosan have tended to be resistant to
certain antibiotics, including a drug widely used for treatment of tuberculosis, an experimental antibiotic currently under development, and a number of other “clinically relevant” antibiotics
The over use of antibiotics has also been linked to increases in allergy and asthma. Our immune systems need stimulation to develop properly, and to
achieve the right balance between the T-helper 1 (TH-1) cells providing cellular immunity and the TH-2 cells promoting antibody production.
In people with allergies, TH-2 and TH-1 responses were out of balance, with TH-2 dominating.
So, we have this stuff everywhere. It is in all sorts of products, yet there is no evidence that it provides any real benefit, and it may be harmful.
AND… it is getting into our water systems, into marine life, building up in our bodies, and degrading into other potentially toxic compounds.
Given the nature of Triclosan use (shampoo, soap, toothpaste) it is mostly disposed of down the drain into waste water systems. Most waste water systems are capable of removing 95-98% of the triclosan, but the sheer volume of its use almost guarantees that it will be discharged into lakes, streams, and rivers.
And it has. The US Geological Survey found triclosan in more than half the streams they studied. And, triclosan bioaccumulates. In one study of a Texas wastewater treatment plant feeding into the Pecan River, it was found that triclosan concentrations in the river were higher then in the effluent of the plant.
Triclosan is a relatively stable compound, and accumulates in fatty tissues, working its way up the food chain.
Three-quarters of people tested in the United States have triclosan in their urine, according to a 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also has been found in breast milk of Swedish women. The concentrations reported in humans are similar to those found in dolphins.
The concentrations found in dolphin blood 0.025 to 0.27 parts per billion. This may not sound like much, but…
…it’s how triclosan behaves, not the amount, that is critical. As little as 0.03 parts per billion has disrupted the endocrine system of frogs in the laboratory.
“It sounds like a very, very little bit, but in biology that’s in the range that normal hormones work,” said Catherine Propper, an endocrinologist at the Northern Arizona University who studies amphibians exposed to chemicals in wastewater.
The levels found in the environment concern scientists because of triclosan’s remarkable biological structure. Triclosan is strikingly similar to thyroid hormone, so it might bind to hormone receptors, said Helbing, author of the frog study. Because frog and mammal endocrine systems are similar, triclosan can potentially “affect how hormones work in ways that aren’t intended” in dolphins, and maybe even humans, she said. Altering thyroid function in humans and animals might cause abnormal brain development and other developmental defects.
Now triclosan is probably not the worst pollutant we face, and there are applications where it is useful, such as in hospitals, so I certainly wouldn’t recommend banning it, but so much of the use of triclosan is just plain unnecessary, and provides no benefit. Given the potential for harm, why are we using so much? Doesn’t it make total sense to cut down the use? Yes it does
What can you do?
This is one of those cases where choices we make can have an impact. Only buy soaps, shampoos, and toothpastes that do not contain triclosan. Kate’s Caring Gifts is one source of all natural and organic body care, All products are Triclosan free. (disclosure – the author of this piece is a part owner of Kate’s Caring Gifts). For soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste, triclosan is just plain unnecessary.
If you do need a sanitizer (let’s say you are in a place without good access to water) use a sanitizer that contains alcohol, such as EO.
And always, always read the labels. Look at the ingredients, and simplify.