Agri-business News clean hands. cc photo by Flickr user arlingtonva

Published on August 13th, 2010 | by Becky Striepe

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Harmful Hand Soap Ingredient Contaminates Soil

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Washing Hands

Triclosan, a hazardous ingredient in antibacterial hand soap, is now showing up in our food supply.

So how is hand soap finding its way into the food web?

Dangers of Triclosan

Triclosan is an antibacterial compound that contributes to bacterial resistance, due to over use in household antibacterial washes. The danger here is similar to overuse of antibiotics in commercial agriculture helping to breed superbugs.

The danger doesn’t stop there, though. Studies suggest that triclosan can directly affect human health. According to Food & Water Watch:

Further studies specific to triclosan have shown that it affects reproduction in lab animals, produces toxic chemicals such as dioxin and chloroform when it reacts with other chemicals like the chlorine in water, irritates skin in humans and might even cause cancer. New laboratory studies on rats and frogs show that triclosan can disrupt thyroid hormone, alter development and impair important functions at the cellular level. And a study by British researchers found that triclosan has estrogenic and androgenic hormone properties and exposure could potentially contribute to the development of breast cancer.

So how did it get into the food supply?

Thanks to the common practice of using sewage sludge to fertilize soil, triclosan has made its way down our drains and on to farmland. Studies have already found it in earthworms that live in sewage-treated soil, and a new study from University of Toledo in Ohio shows that it can absorb into food crops, as well.

Chenxi Wu conducted the lab test on soybeans grown in sewage-treated soil which showed that the mature plants were contaminated with triclosan. Obviously, more study is needed, but in the meantime caution is probably the best course of action.

What You Can Do

Keeping the stuff out of our sewers is a great first step. Food & Water Watch has a helpful list of products that do and don’t contain triclosan, so you can shop responsibly.

You can also sign the petition calling for a ban of this harmful chemical for non-medical purposes.

In the meantime, sticking to organic produce is a good way to keep sludge-treated food off of your dinner plate. You could also join a local CSA and get to know the farmer producing your food. Ask about whether or not their veggies are treated with sludge.

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by arlingtonva

Source: Food & Water Watch

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Becky Striepe is a green blogger and independent crafter with a passion for vintage fabrics. She runs a crafty business, Glue and Glitter, where her mission is to use existing materials in products that help folks reduce their impact without sacrificing style! She specializes in aprons and handmade personalized lunch bags.

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About the Author

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .



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