It's a chemical that's been in U.S. households for more than 40 years, from the body wash in your bathroom shower to the knives on your kitchen counter to the bedding in your baby's basinet.
But federal health regulators are just now deciding whether triclosan -- the germ-killing ingredient found in an estimated 75 percent of antibacterial liquid soaps and body washes sold in the United States -- is ineffective, or worse, harmful.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to deliver a review this year of whether triclosan is safe. The ruling, which will determine whether triclosan continues to be used in household cleaners, could have implications for a $1 billion industry that includes hundreds of antibacterial products from toothpaste to toys.
The agency's review comes amid growing pressure from lawmakers, consumer advocates and others who are concerned about the safety of triclosan. Recent studies of triclosan in animals have led scientists to worry that it could increase the risk of infertility, early puberty and other hormone-related problems in humans.
In 2007, researchers at the University of Michigan and other universities compiled data from 30 studies looking at antibacterial soaps. The results showed soaps with triclosan were no more effective at preventing illness or reducing bacteria on the hands than plain soap.
Other studies have shown that longer hand-washing improves results more than adding antibacterial ingredients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands at least 20 seconds. The CDC also recommends using hand sanitizer -- most of which use alcohol or ethanol to kill germs, not chemicals like triclosan -- if soap and water are unavailable. -- AP