Powerful antimicrobials were all well and good when they were employed in the clinical setting to protect the sick from unnecessary infection, but manufacturers have, for decades, sought to profit by turning these life-savers into consumer products and convincing us that we need them to eradicate bacteria on ourselves and in our homes. Unfortunately, we have bought this nonsense hook, line and sinker, and the effects are already coming back to haunt us.
Antimicrobials, which made their first appearance in commercial hand soaps in the 1980s were already in 76 percent of liquid hand soaps by 2001. One of these chemicals, triclosan, is also now found in many other personal care products ranging from plastics and toys to articles of clothing.
The consequence of the profligate use of this particular chemical is that it now pervades the environment and our bodies, with 97 percent of all women in the US now showing detectable levels of triclosan in their breast milk.
Three quarters of the triclosan washed down the domestic drain accumulates in wastewater sludge, half of which will end up being spread on agricultural land, where it persists for months of even years, before migrating into food or leaching into groundwater. It is extremely likely that these chemicals will then move up the food chain, and earthworms exposed to triclosan have already shown a 2,700 percent accumulation of this chemical, which has been linked to endocrine disruption, with potential adverse impacts on sexual and neurological development.
The irony of this is that regular use of antimicrobial products by the general public has been shown to be no more effective than traditional methods of hygiene, such as simply washing thoroughly with ordinary soap and water.
With manufacturers maintaining their aggressive advertising of antimicrobials, and with regulatory authorities paralyzed by inertia, the message about the need to avoid triclosan and similar products is unlikely to reach sufficient people to prevent a boomerang effect, the consequences of which we can only guess.
NB. This post is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.