Antibacterial soap products raise health concerns

February 15, 2011

Rolf Halden, an environmental engineering expert from ASU's Biodesign Institute, will participate on a Congressional briefing panel in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, about the public health dangers of triclosan – a common antimicrobial ingredient that has raised health and environmental concerns.

Triclosan is a common additive found in antibacterial soaps and personal care products. Antimicrobials made their first appearance in commercial hand soaps in the 1980s, and by 2001, 76 percent of liquid hand soaps contained the chemical. Download Full Image

But the active ingredients of these soaps now have come under scrutiny by the EPA and FDA due to both environmental and human health concerns.

Halden, an associate professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and researcher at Biodesign’s Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, led a research team that has found triclosan – and another antimicrobial additive called triclocarban – to persist during wastewater treatment and cause environmental contamination nationwide. Triclosan and triclocarban pose risks to ecological and human health due to their potential to disrupt proper endocrine function and to cause cross-resistance to life-saving antibiotics used in human medicine.

The chemistry behind these compounds makes them notoriously difficult to break down, thereby enabling them to persist in the environment for years to decades. Halden’s team found significant concentrations of these chemicals dating back to the 1950s in sediments of the Eastern Seaboard near New York City and Baltimore, where sewage treatment plants discharge their treated domestic wastewater. In fact, both triclosan and triclocarban are present in 60 percent of all rivers and streams in the United States. Wastewater treatment processes do not fully eliminate them, so the chemicals persist in sewage sludge, which is then used to fertilize crops on agricultural land.

Closer to home, antimicrobial chemicals appear in household dust where they may act as allergens, and alarmingly, 97 percent of U.S. women with newborns show detectable levels of triclosan in their breast milk. Such unnecessary exposures carry risks that, at present, are ill-defined.

“The culture of fear leads people to make impulsive decisions and buy a lot of antimicrobial products that are not really needed,” Halden said. “It's a profitable market to be in, but not one that is ultimately sustainable or a good idea.”

Several companies are beginning to agree. Colgate-Palmolive, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson and Johnson have recently removed or agreed to phase out triclosan from some of their products.

In 2000, a representative with the American Medical Association said that “it may be prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products,” citing the potential for triclosan to create more potent strains of bacteria, thereby increasing antibiotic resistance.

The" target="_blank">Food and Water Watch and" target="_blank">Beyond Pesticides public health advocacy groups have organized this week’s Congressional forum and submitted a petition to the EPA asking for the ban of triclosan from all nonmedical applications. The EPA is currently observing a 60-day public comment period about the petition.

In addition to Halden, other panelists at the briefing will be: Allison Aiello of the University of Michigan School of Public Health; Peter Vikesland of Virginia Tech; and Kathy Dolan of Food and Water Watch. The session will be moderated by Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch. U.S. Reps. Louise Slughter (NY) and Betty McCollum (MN) will host the session at the Capitol’s Congressional Meeting Room South at 10 a.m., Feb. 17.

Food and Water Watch triclosan fact sheet:">

Julie Kurth

Assistant Director, KE Strategic Marketing and Communications, Knowledge Enterprise


ASU, Mayo Clinic enhance collaboration with formal commitment

February 15, 2011

ASU and Mayo Clinic announced today that they have signed an agreement to broaden and deepen their collaboration in health care, medical research and education. The agreement is a formal commitment to enhance the relationship built over the past eight years.

ASU and Mayo have established a wide variety of successful programmatic collaborations since 2003, including a joint nursing education program, a variety of collaborative research projects, joint faculty appointments and dual degree programs. The success of the ASU-Mayo collaboration led to this broader, formal agreement, which also sets an ambitious vision for an enhanced level of future collaboration, cooperation and partnership. people looking at xrays Download Full Image

“ASU and Mayo have a long history of working together to advance medical education and research,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “This agreement will help us deliver new ideas, new solutions and new technologies that will have positive impacts on the future of health care.”

“We are very excited about this agreement, which reflects our mutual commitment to working closely with our partners at ASU as we continue to enhance our ongoing collaborations across a broad variety of projects and programs,” added Victor Trastek, M.D., vice president of Mayo Clinic and CEO for Mayo Clinic in Arizona. “One important area of focus with ASU is our collective ability to redesign medical education in ways that align with the future of health care delivery.”

The agreement will coordinate future complementary goals of both organizations.

“For Mayo Clinic, this will mean engagement with ASU at all levels across the entire organization, spanning activities in all three shields of practice, education and research,” said John Noseworthy, M.D., Mayo Clinic president and CEO. “Together with ASU, we will design and implement new ways to deliver high-value health care.”

“The Arizona State University-Mayo Clinic partnership is a great example of the public and private sectors collaborating in the design, implementation and delivery of high value health care for the benefit of American citizens,” said Sen. John McCain.

“This partnership has the potential to generate more jobs and opportunity for Phoenix as other medical and research organizations will no doubt take notice of the synergy that is beginning to take place on and around the Phoenix Mayo Campus,” added Phoenix City Councilmember Peggy Neely.

Examples of successful existing Mayo-ASU collaborations include joint work on the new Proton Beam Program at Mayo’s Scottsdale campus, sharing in development of Mayo’s new Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, joint faculty appointments and joint degree programs, such as M.D./J.D. and M.D./M.B.A.

As part of the new agreement, ASU announced it would relocate its Department of Biomedical Informatics to the Scottsdale campus of Mayo Clinic. ASU faculty, staff and students will complete the move by late summer 2011.

Biomedical informatics is a burgeoning field at the intersection of information science, computer science and health care. It deals with the resources, devices and methods needed to optimize the acquisition, storage, retrieval and use of health and biomedical information to enhance patient care and human health.

ASU chief research officer, Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan said biomedical informatics research conducted by ASU and Mayo scientists has the potential to significantly impact future patient care. He added that being physically located on the Mayo campus provides many benefits for all parties.

“There are tremendous synergies at work here,” Panchanathan said. “In order to advance biomedical informatics education and research, we need to be embedded in a clinical environment. Mayo provides access to world-class physicians and researchers. It will provide extraordinary opportunities for ASU faculty and students to work in one of the top clinical facilities in the country and advance education, research and training in biomedical informatics.”

The new setup will allow Biomedical Informatics to draw on the strengths of ASU and Mayo, allowing the program to serve as an informatics engine for practice enhancement and safer, high-quality patient care across Mayo Clinic.

Moving the biomedical informatics department into Mayo “is an important opportunity to further our partnership with an advanced biomedical and clinical organization; to expand our joint research, development and technology transfer; and to improve patient care with this new technology,” added Robert Greenes, M.D. and Ph.D., and ASU’s Ira A. Fulton chair and professor of the Biomedical Informatics department.

In the future, the closer ties between Mayo and ASU are expected to lead to new, cutting-edge collaborations.

“This is the doorway to create more exciting opportunities between ASU and all of Mayo Clinic,” said Keith Frey, M.D., vice chair, Executive Operations Team, chief medical information officer at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, and faculty member of the Biomedical Informatics department. “We hope to take two very successful and smart organizations and do more together in integrating scientific research with a world-class medical organization.”

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Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications