EPA Needs Broader Approach on Antimicrobials

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Elizabeth Cabot (202) 265-7337

EPA Needs Broader Approach on Antimicrobials

Rise of "Super Bugs," Health and Environmental Effects Ignored in Agency Reviews

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval process for
thousands of antimicrobial products is woefully inadequate, according to
regulatory comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). Despite a growing body of scientific evidence
about the side-effects of these products, EPA rubberstamps registrations
without duly considering an array of potential public health and
environmental impacts.

Antimicrobials are now a billion dollar
business with more than 5000 such products currently registered with
EPA. Initially designed for hospitals and clinics, antimicrobial
pesticides are today found in products ranging from household cleaners
to mattresses and bedding, cosmetics, toys, toothpaste and even
chopsticks. Antibacterial products are being marketed to the health
conscious without firm evidence of real benefits and amid growing
concern about downstream consequences.

Today ends the public
comment period on EPA's proposed efficacy test guidelines for
antimicrobial pesticide products. In its comments, PEER faults the
efficacy test guidelines that EPA first proposed in January as being, in
essence, voluntary. More importantly, the EPA is statutorily mandated
to consider environmental and human health risks when regulating these
products, and yet its current approach is exceedingly narrow and
overlooks many of these concerns, including that:

  • The most
    prevalent antibacterial chemical used in consumer products (triclosan)
    is a likely endocrine disrupter that interferes with thyroid function.
    Other studies point to a correlation between overuse of these products
    and increased rates of allergies, asthma, and eczema;
  • Growing
    evidence that continued overuse of antimicrobial products will create
    strains of bacteria, known as "superbugs," that are immune to the
    effects of therapeutic antibiotics, consequently denying doctors
    essential tools to treat the sick, elderly and other vulnerable
    populations; and
  • Ample data showing that antimicrobial
    chemicals are often washed down the drain and end up in our rivers,
    lakes, and streams, proving toxic to fish and other aquatic plants and
    wildlife.

In 2008, EPA itself conceded that antimicrobial
pesticides in wide use are not adequately tested for their effects on
the environment and on human health and proposed a series of new data
requirements from manufacturers, but the agency never finalized these
rules. "EPA now only asks whether these products ‘kill germs' but
myopically ignores what happens later," stated New England PEER Director
Kyla Bennett, a biologist and attorney formerly with EPA. "Incredibly,
EPA does not even require manufacturers to submit definitive data about
the environmental fate and human health effects of their own products."

PEER is also urging EPA to limit the use of currently
registered antimicrobial pesticides to clinical settings and to decline
to approve any pending or future registrations for general consumer use
unless and until data that demonstrate appreciable health benefits to
consumers is submitted and post-use effects are adequately considered.

"Overuse
of antimicrobials may unleash adverse effects which we may not be able
to counteract," said PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein. "EPA is
supposed to protect the environment and that is all we are requesting
them to do."

 

Read
the PEER comments

View
the proposed EPA antimicrobial test guidelines

Compare
the 2008 proposed rule that EPA never adopted

Learn about
antimicrobials

Look
at the growing eco-footprint of antimicrobials and other pharmaceutical
and personal care products

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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