The term “pesticide” is a broad term that includes any compound that kills “pests.” There are miticides, bactericides, fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides and a host of other “-cides” that all fall into the category of pesticide.
Gardeners today are more aware of the use of pesticides than they were decades ago. The increase in organic gardening and the negative publicity of some pesticides (i.e., RoundUp) has led to a greater awareness of the benefits and risks of using any pesticide.
But there’s one pesticide that a lot of people don’t even think of as a pesticide. Walk into any grocery store and if you want to buy dishwashing soap, hand soap or body wash, you’ll find all kinds of products labeled “antibacterial.” And if you look closely, you’ll find that the active ingredient in all of these products is triclosan (or the closely related chemical triclocarban).
Triclosan is a bactericide – a pesticide. It was originally used in hospitals as a surgical scrub but since the late 70’s it’s found its way into a multitude of products.
You can find triclosan in soap, deodorant, lipstick, cosmetics, paints, toothpaste, mouthwash, clothing, kitchen utensils and even pencils! Often it’s hidden under the name Microban where it’s used to limit microbial growth that can cause stains and odors on a lot of kitchen and children’s items – like the Ticonderoga® Pencils with Microban Protection.
I don’t think there’s a person out there who would gargle with RoundUp, shower with 2,4D, coat their skin with Sevin or soak their clothes in Malathion, but unsuspecting consumers are doing just that. Sure, triclosan is a lot less toxic than these other chemicals but it’s still a pesticide – and a pesticide that we don’t even need.
Plain soap and water cleans as well as any antibacterial soap. And plain soap doesn’t add a pesticide to our bodies that can be absorbed through our skin. Tests have shown that 75% of the population have triclosan in their bodies. It’s been found in breast milk, blood, and urine. While there still don’t seem to be clear studies showing direct harm from triclosan, many believe that it affects hormone balance and can alter the gut bacteria and increase antibacterial resistance in microbes.
Anyone who has followed my blog knows that I’m not opposed to pesticides. But when I use them, it’s always to address a specific problem and I used the least amount possible of the safest product for the shortest period of time.
That’s why triclosan makes no sense to me. There is no specific problem that it addresses except Americans’ deeply ingrained germaphobia! If you use antibacterial products you’re exposing yourself to it for a long time. And many are raising the question of just how safe it is.
I always read the label when I buy an herbicide or insecticide. Now I’m reading labels when I buy soap, toothpaste, and moisturizer. I’m reading to make sure that there isn’t any triclosan in the product. I’m not about to start washing with a pesticide!
(Also see Scientific American’s article, “A Key Antibacterial Soap Ingredient Must Go” by Maricel V. Maffini and Mae Wu.)