Monday, August 2, 2010

I'm anti-antibacterial products - read on to see why you might want to be, too.

I’ll start by admitting that I am an obsessive hand sanitizer and wash my hands religiously.  Anyone who knows me, knows that germs are the stuff of my nightmares – and with 2 small children it is a daily concern.  It didn’t help that their first few winters were full of exciting threats like H1N1 and bird flu epidemics.  A quick and easy way to clean hands on the go seemed like a no-brainer safety precaution.  After all, they are used throughout hospitals, schools and even grocery stores these days.  Must be perfectly safe, right?  In addition, I felt 'safe' getting home and using antibacterial soap to further clean off any pesky germs collected on forays to the grocery store, mall or playground.

Then the downsides started cropping up...

I didn’t mind that hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps killed the ‘good’ bacteria along with the bad.  I could live with that.  

It was the better understanding of ‘antimicrobial’ that first sent up a red flare for me.  I thought the term antimicrobial just meant ‘germ killer’, but antimicrobial agents actually inhibit cellular reproduction.  In essence, it mutates the bacteria and while, yes, that kills it, it also changes it.  Bacteria are smart little critters – how long before they find a new and better way around our attempts to alter their structure?  I’m not foolish enough to get out of my depth on this one.  I’m not a scientist and a Master in Public Health in Environmental Health is just a Lotto dream for me – but suffice it to say, this has concerned a number of people with a much better grasp of the subject matter.  I started to question my faith in antibacterial products.

Then the issue really spoke to me.  Nearly all antibacterial soaps and some hand sanitizers contain triclosan and triclocarban – PESTICIDES that can damage reproductive organs, sperm quality and the production of thyroid and sex hormones.  So I have been coating my hands – and so much worse, my CHILDRENS’ hands – with a PESTICIDE???  I won’t even let the bug guy in our house.  I try ‘deterring’ spiders with lemon scents.  I spread cinnamon and cayenne pepper all over our foyer in an attempt to chase away ants.  But I am regularly and liberally using a pesticide-laced soap on our skin?  Not anymore.

How is it possible that products containing such a potentially dangerous ingredient are so readily available without any kind of warning?  It all comes back to the refrain – we desperately need reformed federal policies to protect the public from toxic chemicals.

Apparently the FDA is looking into the safety of antibacterial products containing triclosan and triclocarban now that they have been sued by the National Resources Defense Council – a fact I learned today while researching this topic.  I’m not waiting for their verdict to ban all antimicrobial and antibacterial products, especially those containing triclosan, from our home.

As for alcohol-based hand-sanitizers, the jury (MY jury, anyway) is still out.  When I buy non-alcohol 'kid safe' hand sanitizers, they describe themselves as 'antimicrobial' – not something I want to continue.  Maybe the alcohol-based hand sanitizers are still our best bet when we can't get to plain soap and water.  I'm off to find options that I can live with – ideally without having to dangle 2 2-year olds over the sinks in public bathrooms on a regular basis.  One thing is for sure – although we'll still be big hand washers whether at home or away, we will never use antibacterial soaps again.

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