Antibacterial soaps may not curb bacteria

Published: Wednesday | December 18, 2013 Comments 0

After more than 40 years of study, the US government says it has found no evidence that common antibacterial soaps prevent the spread of germs, and regulators want the makers of Dawn, Dial and other household staples to prove that their products do not pose health risks to consumers.

Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Monday they are revisiting the safety of triclosan, the sanitising agent found in soap in countless kitchens and bathrooms. Recent studies suggest triclosan and similar substances can interfere with hormone levels in lab animals and spur the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

The government's preliminary ruling lends new support to outside researchers who have long argued that the chemicals are, at best, ineffective and, at worst a threat to public health.

"The FDA is finally making a judgement call here and asking industry to show us that these products are better than soap and water, and the data don't substantiate that," said Stuart Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine.

While the rule only applies to personal hygiene products, it has implications for a broader $1-billion industry that includes thousands of antibacterial products, including kitchen knives, toys, pacifiers and toothpaste. Over the last 20 years, companies have added triclosan and other cleaners to thousands of household products, touting their germ-killing benefits.

Under a proposed rule released on Monday, the agency will require manufacturers to prove that anti-bacterial soaps are safe and more effective than plain soap and water. Products that are not shown to be safe and effective by late 2016 would have to be reformulated, relabelled or removed from the market.

NO EVIDENCE

"I suspect there are a lot of consumers who assume that by using an antibacterial soap product they are protecting themselves from illness, protecting their families," said Sandra Kweder, deputy director in the FDA's drug centre. "But we don't have any evidence that that is really the case over simple soap and water."

A spokesman for the cleaning product industry said the FDA already has "a wealth of data" showing the benefits of antibacterial products.

Monday's action affects virtually all soap products labelled antibacterial, including dish and hand soaps and body washes.

The rule does not apply to hand sanitisers, most of which use alcohol rather than antibacterial chemicals.

An FDA analysis estimates it will cost companies $112.2 million to $368.8 million to comply with the new regulations, including reformulating some products and removing marketing claims from others.

The agency will accept data from companies and researchers for one year before beginning to finalise the rule.

- AP


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