University of Minnesota research finds common antibacterial agent triclosan abundant in MN lakes


A common ingredient used in antibacterial soaps is building up in Minnesota’s lakes.

In a study published last week, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that increased use of triclosan, a common ingredient in anti-bacterial hand soaps, has resulted in the buildup of the chemical and its derivatives since its debut in the 1970s.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are currently reevaluating the chemical’s potential danger to humans, animals and the environment.

William Arnold, lead author of the study and civil engineering professor, said he doesn’t use any products containing triclosan.

“People who read about the research should look at the bottles of products that they’re using at home,” he said, “and decide whether they should continue to use it based on the fact that the compound they’re washing their hands with is getting out into the nearby waters.”

The FDA previously concluded that triclosan was not toxic to humans, but that it could be harmful to animals and the environment, according to the agency’s website. But new research like the University’s study has prompted another review.

Other studies have found triclosan to be a contributing factor in bacteria resistance to antibiotics, to affect hormone regulation in animals and to be toxic to algae.

Triclosan’s only found effectiveness is in toothpaste to prevent gingivitis. The FDA determined antibacterial soaps with triclosan were the same as using regular soap and water.

The ingredient can also be present in detergents, cosmetics, toys and other household products, according to the FDA, but University researchers looked at where triclosan builds up after it washes down the drain.

When the chemical goes through water treatment plants, it can combine with chlorine to form chlorinated triclosan derivatives. When the wastewater enters lakes and rivers, these CTD’s can form dioxins when sunlight hits them.

The World Health Organization classifies dioxins as a “group of chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants.” Arnold said the dioxins formed from triclosan aren’t as toxic as many other others, but their toxicity can increase as they build up in the environment.

For more on this research and the future of triclosan, pick up Wednesday’s Daily.