Trader Joe’s disappointed me. It’s usually my favorite grocery store — closer than Whole Foods, and a heck of a lot less expensive. But last week as I was picking up my dishwashing soap (TJ’s Next To Godliness Automatic Dishwashing powder), my eyes were drawn to a bottle sitting right above it. A small bottle of antibacterial handsoap that contained–gasp!–triclosan.
You’ve probably heard of the stuff. You’ve probably even used it. But you may not know how dangerous it is. Triclosan is an anti-microbial chemical. Sometimes identified as Microban, you can find it everywhere including soaps, toothpaste, toys and exercise clothing. It’s also a pesticide, at least according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and one that is helping create antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Oh, and then there’s the whole dioxin problem: Sunlight turns triclosan into dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals in the world. Whole towns have been abandoned because of dioxin.
Humankind aside, it’s also not good for the environment. The main problem, say researchers, is that it doesn’t break down. Instead, it enters the waters from sewage treatment plants and remains, harming marine life and other organisms. One study out of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University found that antibacterial agents including triclosan introduced into the New York City’s waterways a half a century ago are still there. (Want to learn more about the product and its sister product triclocarban? Food and Water Watch has an excellent primer.)
If it was a miracle product, you might argue, it would be worth it. What’s a few dead algae and live super bugs if it prevented the common cold? Except for one thing: research study after research study says that triclosan is no more effective at killing germs than a simple $1 bar of soap.
So with all this damning evidence, you’d think Trader Joe’s, which actually seems to have a social conscience, wouldn’t bother selling such a product. I don’t know why they do, actually. I emailed the company’s customer service when I got home, but have not heard back from them yet. I’ll keep you posted if and when I do. In the meantime I’m going to keep reading labels because sometimes even companies with what seem like the best intentions screw up.
June 3, 2010 UPDATE: As of May 24 the FDA is currently re-evaluating the safety of triclosan, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). From the report: “The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reevaluating the safety of antibacterial consumer products containing triclosan, in light of studies suggesting that this chemical may interfere with hormone function or contribute to antibacterial resistance.” Meanwhile, another May 2010 study found that nearly a third of the dioxins in the Mississippi River can be directly linked back to triclosan. Scary stuff, people. Scary stuff.