May 20 at 5:05pm by Aileen
The “germ-free” craze not only contributes to a generation of homebound children who have no developed resistance to real world ‘germs’ or irritants, we’ve also been warned over and over again for more than a decade that those bacteria we’re fighting will themselves develop resistance to the anti-biotics we use against them. Now a study by the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University has traced the active ingredients in antibacterial soaps to their final resting place in the shallow sediments of estuaries into which treated wastewater is dumped.
The active ingredients traced are triclosan (TCS), which is structurally similar to dioxin, and triclocarban (TCC), a closely related compound. Biodesign Institute researcher Rolf Halden and coworkers traced these compounds to the shallow sediments of New York City’s Jamaica Bay and the Chesapeake Bay, the world’s largest estuary. Both of these compounds operate as endocrine (hormone) disruptors in mammals, much as agricultural chemicals operate to disrupt the sexual development of amphibians in the midwest.
Halden made use of concentrations of radioactive fallout from nuclear testing in the last half of the 20th century to determine how long ago the antimicrobial residues were deposited (and thus how long they’re lasting in the environment). And while core samples determined that a 1978 improvement in a Baltimore waste treatment plant did drop the levels of deposited TCC, the upgraded technology just put more of the substance into the sewage sludge that is disposed of by being applied as “fertilizer” on agricultural cropland.
Halden is planning to continue his research and study body burdens and health effects in pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants. Ecologically speaking, we are probably better off living with a few germs, and hand washing with regular soap has been shown to be just as effective as with antimicrobial soaps in sanitizing hands. Yet another good reason to reconsider our fear of germs – sometimes, it seems, the cure is worse than the disease.