The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

December 23, 2013

Our View: Dirt on soap points to FDA stall

Why it matters Delaying release of information about potentially harmful products does a public disservice.

Here’s the real dirt on anti-bacterial soap.

It took not one, not two, not three, but four decades to get federal authorities to make a preliminary ruling that says what many studies already said — that there’s no evidence anti-bacterial soaps prevent the spread of germs.

Not only is effectiveness an issue, but the Food and Drug Administration wants the manufacturers to prove their products do not pose health risks to consumers.

That’s way too much time to come to that conclusion, especially considering that a preliminary draft of the study was done in 1978. The results were not finalized until this year. The Associated Press reports that the government only agreed to publish its findings after a three-year legal battle with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that accused the FDA of delaying action on potentially dangerous chemicals.

If that group hadn’t sued for release of the report, the FDA may have never come clean.

The FDA’s preliminary ruling last week comes more than 40 years after the agency began evaluating triclosan, triclocarban and similar ingredients. The FDA was asked to investigate anti-bacterial chemicals in 1972 as part of a law designed to set guidelines for dozens of common cleaners. But the guidelines got bogged down in years of regulatory delays and missed deadlines, AP reports.

The products have been a big public concern for a long time because of possible contributions to the emergence of drug-resistant bugs or superbugs that make antibiotics ineffective.

Under a proposed rule, the FDA will require manufacturers to prove that anti-bacterial soaps are safe and more effective than plain soap and water. Products not shown to be safe and effective by late 2016 would have to be reformulated, relabeled or removed from the market.

The delay in this health-related action is inexcusable. As the government dragged its feet on making manufacturers back up their claims, schools, businesses, hospitals, nursing homes as well as households have been using the soaps in an effort to make their environment healthier. And they may well have been doing more harm than good. In March 2010, the European Union banned the chemical from all products that come into contact with food, such as containers and silverware.

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