Wednesday, April 26

hand soap antibacterials last for-ev-er

I've always thought it was kind of dumb to put antibacterial chemicals in regular hand soap. Isn't just regular soap good enough? At least with guys, it's hard enough to get to them to wash their hands at all after going to the bathroom. (I've seen a lot of guys just splash their hands under the faucet; it's some kind of vestigal washing ritual.)

Anyway, it turns out that one of the commonly used antibacterial compounds in hand soap, called triclocarban, lasts an incredibly long time.

When you wash it down the drain and it goes into sewage sludge, this sludge gets treated at a sewage plant. And yet 75% of triclocarban sticks around.

Since this sludge gets put on crops (yes, we are growing crops on our own manure), the chemical could make a complete cycle from your hands to your stomach, via a detour through sewage sludge and a field of crops. (Read more in this press release.)

Having this chemical in our food might be bad for us. Researchers aren't sure, but they're checking it out.

But to me, it seems like not the best idea to have all these extra antibiotics floating around, since they might contribute to antibacterial resistance—something we have enough problems with, in part because doctors and farmers overuse antibiotics. Maybe this chemical is different enough from the antibiotics you get from the doctor that the widespread use in soap isn't a big deal. But nevertheless, it seems like we shouldn't be slathering on extra antibiotics unless we're really sure we need them.

SEWAGE UPDATE: Slate has a new article, "The Wasteland: At sewage school, kids learn what happens when they flush," that—well, the title pretty much sums it up.


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