Cincinnati is home to a lot of major corporations, Fifth Third Bank, Macy's, AK Steel and Western & Southern Insurance, but the big two by far are Kroger and Proctor & Gamble (now P&G). The region makes a lot of money as HQ to two of the largest makers and sellers of consumer cleaning products you buy at the grocery store, so when the Obama administration called out manufacturers and retailers of antibacterial soaps on Friday and is banning the main ingredient in them, it's kind of a big deal around here.
The Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of soaps containing certain antibacterial chemicals on Friday, saying industry had failed to prove they were safe to use over the long term or more effective than using ordinary soap and water.
In all the F.D.A. took action against 19 different chemicals and has given industry a year to take them out of their products. About 40 percent of soaps — including liquid hand soap and bar soap – contain the chemicals. Triclosan, mostly used in liquid soap, and triclocarban, in bar soaps, are by far the most common.
The rule applies only to consumer hand washes and soaps. Other products may still contain the chemicals. At least one toothpaste, Colgate Total, still does, but the F.D.A. says its maker proved that the benefits of using it — reducing plaque and gum disease — outweigh the risks.
The agency is also studying the safety and efficacy of hand sanitizers and wipes, and has asked companies for data on three active ingredients — alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol), isopropyl alcohol and benzalkonium chloride — before issuing a final rule on them.
Public health experts applauded the rule, which came after years of mounting concerns that the antibacterial chemicals that go into everyday products are doing more harm than good. Experts have pushed the agency to regulate antimicrobial chemicals, warning that they risk scrambling hormones in children and promoting drug-resistant infections.
“It has boggled my mind why we were clinging to these compounds, and now that they are gone I feel liberated,” said Rolf Halden, a scientist at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, who has been tracking the issue for years. “They had absolutely no benefit but we kept them buzzing around us everywhere. They are in breast milk, in urine, in blood, in babies just born, in dust, in water.”
The agency first proposed the rule in 2013, when it told companies that unless they could prove that chemicals like triclosan and triclocarban did more good than harm, they would have to remove the products that contained them from the market. On Friday, the agency said that it was not convinced.
The F.D.A. has given industry more time to prove that an additional three chemicals are safe and effective — benzalkonium chloride,benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol. Products with those chemicals can stay on the market for now.
And the drug resistance that antibacterial agents like triclosan are causing is not a joke. We're rapidly running into resistant strains of infectious, treatable diseases like tuberculosis that are no longer treatable by the drugs we have. The age of antibiotics is rapidly coming to a close and the antibiotics we have now will probably be rendered all but useless within my lifetime.
It's probably a smart move by the FDA to keep a tight leash on chemicals like that. Hand sanitizer, now ubiquitous in American society, is most likely next on the list.
We'll see what the FDA has to say about that soon.