Triclosan's Dirty Secrets Can Land Your Products in 'Toxic Lockout'

In this blogging space in September, I asked, "Should Your Company Wash Its Hands of Triclosan?" I noted that the FDA and EPA will be revisiting regulatory approvals of triclosan in the next few years, the FDA says triclosan doesn't convey health benefits beyond regular soap, and various manufacturers and retailers no longer sell it. I suggested that consumer-facing companies still using triclosan in soaps should consider an exit strategy.

On December 8, 2010, EPA published a notice in the Federal Register (pdf) increasing the timeliness of this question. The EPA solicited public comment on a petition from two NGOs requesting a ban on triclosan for those uses regulated by the EPA. NGOs have filed a similar petition with the FDA requesting action on uses regulated by the agency.

Two companies can be added to the list of those moving from triclosan. Colgate-Palmolive has repositioned its antibacterial dish-cleaning liquid. The orange-colored  "Ultra-Palmolive Antibacterial" available until recently bore an FDA-required drug disclosure label listing triclosan as the active ingredient. The FDA disclosure was required because the dish-cleaning liquid was also labeled a "hand soap," placing its label claims under FDA jurisdiction.

No more. The replacement bottle, claiming to kill "99.9% of bacteria on dishes & kitchen surfaces," bears an EPA-required label for a replacement ingredient -- L-Lactic Acid. The EPA label replaced the FDA label because the new product is marketed solely as a dish liquid, not a hand liquid, placing it under EPA jurisdiction. The Environmental Working Group's "Skin Deep" database assigns L-Lactic Acid a "low hazard" rating of 1 and triclosan a "high hazard" rating of 7 on a scale from 1 to 10.

Colgate-Palmolive also is moving from triclosan in its hand soaps. It formerly marketed Softsoap brand antibacterial hand soap containing triclosan, with a label claiming elimination of 99 percent of germs. It is now rolling out a new line of Softsoap hand soaps which merely state that they "wash away bacteria." The back label of the new Softsoap "Kitchen Fresh Hands" bottle reminds purchasers that "The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take. It is best to wash hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds."

Colgate-Palmolive's been making the product switches without much fanfare. The market for antibacterial soaps is largely a commodity market, with brands competing on price and those brands containing triclosan falling out of favor with environmentally concerned consumers. Colgate-Palmolive's substitution of L-Lactic Acid in its dish detergent helps differentiate its product in that market from other companies' antibacterial offerings containing triclosan. (Colgate-Palmolive is retaining use of triclosan in its Total brand -- a line of therapeutic toothpastes -- because of health benefits demonstrated in clinical trials.)

Companies whose products contain certain out-of-favor chemicals can suffer from "toxic lockout," if retailers exclude them from the marketplace.

Next Page: The poster child for toxic lockout.