Minnesota becomes first state to ban triclosan, controversial ingredient in antibacterial soaps

Triclosan is in roughly 75 percent of antibacterial soaps and body washes.

Triclosan is in roughly 75 percent of antibacterial soaps and body washes.

:::: UPDATE :::: Minnesota's Triclosan ban: Expert explains why it's the right move

Tucked into an environment bill signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday was a measure banning triclosan, a controversial antibacterial agent found in a wide array of consumer products.

Minnesota is the first state to ban triclosan, which is currently being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

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The ban, which was approved by the Legislature with broad bipartisan support, has drawn the ire of the D.C.-based American Cleaning Institute.

ACI spokesman Brian Sansoni argues research on triclosan hasn't shown that the agent has any negative health impact on humans.

"For members of the public who want to choose these products, they should certainly be able to have access to them," Sansoni tells us. "This particular chemical has been in use for over 40 years, primarily in health care and then in the consumer space, and it has been safely used. We use it to wash our hands and in other applications too, and it continues to be safely used, and it's been more researched than just about any other ingredient that's used in consumer products."

Asked about the benefits of triclosan, Sansoni says, "Very simply put, antibacterial soaps have a germ-killing benefit as compared to non-antibacterial soaps."

But proponents of the ban argue the hygienic benefits of triclosan are overstated, and that the agent has negative environmental impacts, if not negative health impacts for humans.

In February, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told MPR, "There are a lot better products out there we want people to use... I think one day we're going to look back and say, why didn't we do this much sooner?"

"I can say as the public health person on the infectious disease side, the benefits aren't there," Osterholm continued. "So if the risks are something to be measured, then in a risk-benefit analysis this chemical shouldn't and doesn't hold up."

With regard to triclosan's environmental implications, a University of Minnesota study published last year found increasing levels of the agent in several lakes. It also found the interaction of triclosan with chlorine and sunlight can form dioxins, environmental pollutants that can be harmful to humans.

That research prompted Governor Dayton to ban state agencies from purchasing products with triclosan, and many national manufacturers have started voluntarily phasing the agent out of products.

But Sansoni argues Minnesota lawmakers should've waited on the results of the FDA review, to be completed in 2016, before taking action.

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"It's unfortunate that a lot of hype and smear and fear about this particular ingredient overwhelmed the day rather than the history of safe use and the real solid data that's out there," Sansoni says. "That's no way to regulate."

"For the first time in two decades, the FDA, which regulates this product category, is undergoing [a review] of a whole new set of rules on antibacterial soaps and their ingredients, which makes this legislation all the more confounding," Sansoni continues. "I think from that perspective it's probably more disappointing because it's working its way through the federal process right now."

Last Wednesday, the ACI wrote a letter to Dayton urging him to veto the bill containing the triclosan ban. The letter cites studies indicating that "regular use of antibacterial soaps with triclosan does not contribute to antibiotic resistance" and that "the levels of triclosan in Minnesota waters are safe."

But those arguments didn't win over Dayton or legislators like Sen. John Marty (D-Roseville), the lead sponsor of the triclosan ban in the Senate, which passed the environmental bill unanimously.

Marty argues Minnesota's triclosan ban will resonate nationally.

"While this is an effort to ban triclosan from one of the 50 states, I think it will have a greater impact than that," Marty told the Associated Press.

The ban goes into effect on January 1, 2017. Sansoni says it's too early to say whether it'll cause manufactures to reformulate their products without triclosan for sale in Minnesota or simply pull items from shelves here.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]