This year marks 20 years since Hasbro was fined for false advertising, claiming their Playskool toys laden with the antimicrobial chemical triclosan would keep kids healthier. It is also the year when soap manufacturers will finally have to remove the chemical from their products.
Triclosan is one example of a potentially hazardous chemical used in some antimicrobial products. The Food and Drug Administration recently banned it, along with 18 others chemicals, from hand soaps because of unacceptable risks to humans and the environment. Exposure to triclosan in general is linked with disruption of hormone function and the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
The FDA asked manufacturers to demonstrate that these chemicals are safe for long-term use and more effective than regular soap. Neither has been proven.
But these same chemicals are still used in many other products -- including plush toys, pool wings, pacifier pockets, building blocks and even craft supplies like markers and scissors -- without any label required. Some of these products are marketed as being antimicrobial, but many aren't.
Because these products are not under the purview of the FDA, they aren't subject to the ban, and companies aren't required to reveal what makes them antimicrobial. This means it is hard for consumers to know what products contain these chemicals.
Why Was Triclosan Banned in Soaps?
Manufacturers failed to demonstrate that antimicrobial soaps were any more effective than regular soaps. Essentially, there are no reported benefits of antimicrobial soaps to outweigh the risks of using antimicrobial chemicals. So, are these chemicals any more effective in other products?
Overall, peer-reviewed research showing that household products and building materials containing antimicrobial chemicals, such as cutting boards and industrial flooring, harbor fewer bacteria is scant. Research further demonstrating that these products protect human health is essentially nonexistent. This indicates that, much like in soaps, triclosan in other products isn't doing much good.