Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why We Are Phasing Out Use of "Antibacterial" Handsoaps

Here at Cat's Meow Veterinary Clinic we have always used (and will continue to use) surgical scrub soap containing chlorhexidine for use on patients and prior to gloving up for surgery. But our everyday handsoap for use at sinks throughout the hospital is another matter.

Some years back I made the decision to switch to "antibacterial" handsoap containing triclosan because, well everyone was doing so and it seemed to make sense. But the devil is in the details. In the ensuing years there have been disturbing reports of environmental persistence by this chemical (yeah, we REALLY need another DDT, don't we?), and more frighteningly, its negative effects on soil and water microbes.

Now there are plenty of microbes we want to have a negative effect on: specifically the potential pathogens found on dirty hands. But the last thing I'd ever want to see is for those effects to spread beyond my hands and into our waterways and outdoor ecosystems. And that is exactly what is happening.

In 2011 Tufts University produced a white paper evaluating triclosan. They expressed concerns about bioaccumulation in fatty tissues of animals including humans, contributions to antibiotic resistance, and environmental effects.

I decided, based on these concerns, that it would be wise to end our use of products containing triclosan wherever possible. So we've been gradually using up the jug of Dial Antibacterial Handsoap we had on hand (I felt this was preferable to sending it en masse to a landfill - dilution is the solution to pollution in this case) - and I am happy to report that we are now down to the final 8 ounces or so in the final dispenser.

Research studies have shown that vigorous handwashing with ordinary soap removes just as many bacteria as soaps containing triclosan, with far less environmental impact. It's all about mechanical removal, it turns out, and not about "sterilization" of hands (which is physically impossible anyway).

So I'm about to do a little happy dance as the last of that nasty orange stuff goes away. I now use a handsoap with no dyes, though it does have some fragrance. And as soon as I can find a jug of fragrance and dye-free handsoap, I will phase that in. I believe I spotted one at Whole Paycheck, but avoiding those pesky unintended consequences is well worth the cost.