Despite an upcoming Food & Drug Administration (FDA) ban, antimicrobial chemicals can still be found in some household items like shower heads, counter tops, even cutting boards.
Veronica Hewgley says she chooses her gadgets carefully.
"When shopping, I chose the plastic cutting boards because I could put them in the dishwasher to make sure they got clean and sanitized," she says.
We checked, and at least one of her cutting boards has antimicrobial protection.
Microban is a leading antimicrobial producer.
The company says the chemicals create an inhospitable environment for bacteria, mold, and mildew, and products stay cleaner between cleanings. But could antimicrobial products be creating a resistance to antibiotics?
Dr. Erica Hartmann, Assistant Professor at Northwest University in Washington, studies antimicrobials. She says they're showing up in large quantities, but it's one particular chemical, triclosan, that's causing the biggest concern. It's an antibacterial product that has been banned in hand soaps.
"What's really concerning about my results is that where we find more triclosan, we find more genes coding for resistance to antibiotic drugs that we use quite frequently," she says.
Microban says it does not use triclosan.
Antimicrobials in plastics and other consumer products are regulated by the EPA as pesticides. The agency does not require that a product disclose if the pesticide is "is intended to protect only the treated article or substance itself". In other words, the EPA doesn't require that products disclose whether they protect you. That may come as a surprise.
"For a product to contain an antimicrobial, I would think it's to keep the bacteria off of me," Hewgley says.
"When we label something as antimicrobial, I think the public perception is really that this product will keep you healthy, and we have no evidence to support that," Dr. Hartmann explains. "If we continue to use these chemicals in such high volumes for an extended period of time, we could get to the point where I would say, actually, we do need to really be concerned about this."
Microban says their solutions are integrated into products during the manufacturing process, and will not leach out uncontrollably. But Dr. Hartmann says more research is needed.
"In the same way that the FDA regulates ingredients lists for personal care products, I would like to see the government also regulating ingredients lists and making sure manufacturers provide that information to concerned consumers," she says.
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