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Friends of the Earth is warning consumers in Britain of the risks of the anti-bacterial triclosan, following a further alert on the compound from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [1]. The Danish public warning is the latest in a series of warnings in Europe about the chemical, found in a number of household products, which is contaminating both human bodies and the wider environment.

Triclosan (sometimes marketed under the name of 'Microban' [2]) is added to a wide range of products, including toiletries such as liquid soaps, shower gels, mouthwashes, toothpaste and household products such as washing-up liquids, dishcloths, chopping boards, bin liners, plastic kitchen utensils, scouring pads and toilet cleaners [3]. It has also been used in some clothing, such as socks and bicycle shorts.

Triclosan has been detected as a contaminant in human breast milk and in fish [4] and it has been found in some rivers and lakes. A new Danish report shows that wastewater effluents discharged into rivers can contain the chemical [5].

In the last few years, government authorities in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany have issued press statements discouraging people from using antibacterial household and personal hygiene products [6][7][8]. Concerns have been raised about the potential for encouraging bacterial resistance and research has suggested a possible link with hormone-disrupting chemicals [9].

The European Commission is currently planning to overhaul laws regulating the use of chemicals in household products but is facing vociferous lobbying from the chemical industry and from Tony Blair.

Friends of the Earth's Safer Chemicals Campaigner, Mary Taylor, said:

"Consumers in Britain as well as Denmark should be aware of the possible risks posed by this chemical which is found in many household products. It is an unnecessary addition to most of these products and retailers should phase out such products as soon as possible. But in the meantime, consumers who want to avoid this chemical should take care. Triclosan is listed on the ingredients of some products, but this is not always the case. We urgently require new laws that put consumers and the environment before the vested interests of the chemical industry."

Notes

[1] ENDS, 2003, `Danes warn consumers off triclosan' Environment Daily, London, UK, 19 September 2003.

[2] However, Microban is not always triclosan according to the manufacturers, Ciba.

[3] ENDS, `Phase-out calls as toothpaste biocide turns up in breast milk', ENDS Report 304, May 2000.

[4] Adolfsson-Erici, M. et al (2000). `Triclosan, a commonly used bactericide found in human milk and in the aquatic environment', Organohalogen Compounds 45, 83-86.

[5] Samsoe-Petersen, L., Winther-Nielsen, M. and Madsen, T., 2003, `Fate and effects of triclosan', DHI Water & Environment, Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

[6] ENDS, 'Denmark discourages household antibacterials', in Environment Daily, London, UK, 26th October 2000.

[7] ENDS, 'Finnish warning on antibacterial chemicals', in Environment Daily, London, UK, 16th February 2001.

[8] ENDS, 'German appeal to limit antibacterial use', in Environment Daily, London, UK, 22nd March 2001.

[9] Foran, C.M., E.R. Bennett, and W.H. Benson, 2000, `Developmental evaluation of a potential non-steroidal estrogen: triclosan', Marine Environmental Research 50, 153-156.

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