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[June 20, 2017]

Antimicrobial Products Can Do More Harm than Good

Global Call to Action on Antimicrobials from Scientists Published Today; SUNY Downstate’s Dr. Laura Geer among the Authors

 

Brooklyn, NY, June 20 – A consensus statement published today in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives (https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ehp1788) concludes that common antimicrobial products do not provide health benefits and can harm human health and the environment. The “Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban” also calls for greater caution in using antimicrobial chemicals in everyday products.

Laura Geer, PhD, MHS, associate professor and chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences in the School of Public Health, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, said, “Antimicrobial substances added by manufacturers to common household products can potentially disrupt the human endocrine system, without providing significant safety advantages, and they are known to linger in the environment.”

“People think antimicrobial hand soaps offer better protection against illness. But generally, antimicrobial soaps perform no better than plain soap and water,” said Barbara Sattler, RN, DrPH, FAAN, environmental health professor at the University of San Francisco.

Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that 19 different antimicrobial chemicals, including triclosan and triclocarban, were not effective and should not be marketed for use in over-the-counter consumer wash products. Now, 200 scientists say the FDA’s decision does not go far enough to protect consumers and the environment.

In consumer soaps and washes, brands are using different additives. “I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps. But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse,” said Arlene Blum, PhD, Executive Director of Green Science Policy Institute.

Antimicrobials are also commonplace in products where you wouldn’t expect them, including paints, exercise mats, flooring, apparel, food storage containers, home textiles, electronics, kitchenware, school supplies, and countertops.

“Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do,”said Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network. In 2016,Dr. Schettler authored a report on antimicrobials in hospital furnishings for the nonprofit Health Care Without Harm.

“Added antimicrobials are marketed as beneficial in building products from countertops to doorknobs and light switches,”said Bill Walsh, President of Healthy Building Network, which recently produced a white paper on antimicrobial building products. “Antimicrobial preservatives are useful in certain products like paints, but we found claims about health benefits to be largely invalid.” Nevertheless, sales of “antimicrobial” performance products are projected to grow.

Scientists and health professionals agree that non-medical uses of antimicrobials should be reduced.“Environmental and human exposures to triclosan and triclocarban are widespread, affecting pregnant women, developing fetuses, and breast-feeding babies,” said Rolf Halden, PhD, PE, professor of engineering at Arizona State University and lead author of the Florence Statement. “We must develop better alternatives and avoid unneeded exposures to ineffective, polluting and risky antimicrobial chemicals.”

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SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively.

SUNY Downstate ranks twelfth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school. For more information, visit www.downstate.edu.  

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For more information: Watch/share this short video clip:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIAbs3lhbK4&feature=youtu.be .

Read about the 2016 FDA decision on antimicrobials in over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products:
https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm517478.htm
 

Available for Interviews:

  • Laura Geer, Laura Geer, PhD, MHS, associate professor and chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences in the School of Public Health. T: (718) 270-5267; email: laura.geer@downstate.edu
  • Avery Lindeman, Deputy Director, Green Science Policy Institute. T: (510) 898-1739; email: avery@GreenSciencePolicy.org
  • Arlene Blum, Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute. T: (510) 919-6363; email: arlene@GreenSciencePolicy.org
  • Rolf Halden, Director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Security and Professor at Arizona State University. T: (480) 727-0893; email: rolf.halden@asu.edu
  • Ted Schettler, Science Director, Science and Environmental Health Network. Email: tschettler@igc.org
  • Bill Walsh, Founder and President, Healthy Building Network. T: (202) 741-5717 ext. 709; email: bwalsh@healthybuilding.net
  • Barbara Sattler, Professor at University of San Francisco and co-founder of Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. T: (410) 371-6965; email: bsattler@usfca.edu