Nightly News   |  December 16, 2013

FDA raises concerns over antibacterial soaps

The FDA has seen no evidence that antibacterial products actually prevent the spread of germs – they may in fact present bigger health risks. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> there is news tonight regarding a hugely popular line of consumer products used daily in millions of our homes. they claim to be better than soap and water . but now the feds are telling the companies that make these anti-bacterial soaps to prove they are not only better but also that they are safe. we are talking about some 2,000 different products. nbc's tom costello is with us from a decidedly domestic-looking setting inside our washington bureau tonight. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening. we are talking about anti-bacterial soaps and body washes, not hand sanitizers with alcohol or the stuff in the hospital. the concern is a specific chemical found in 75% of the products on the market. mid afternoon with three boys. there are lots of ways to pick up dirt and germs.

>> if they use the bathroom, go to school, play sports, there is a lot of opportunity for them to be touching, you know, dirty areas.

>>> like a lot of parents lisa relies on anti-bacterial soap assuming it's better than regular soap and water but the fda says that may not be true. it want it is makers of anti-bacterial soaps and body washes to prove their products are safe and more effective than soap and water .

>> we have no evidence that presence of the anti-bacterial ingredients in these soaps and body washes actually prevent the spread of infection.

>> reporter: the concern? that liquid soaps which contain triclosan or triclocarban may potentially interfere with hormones like estrogen, testosterone and thyroid functions which could affect childhood development and puberty.

>> it is an artificial chemical which doesn't exist in nature. we are putting a lot of it in the environment for no obvious benefit that's been well demonstrated.

>> reporter: the american cleaning institute insists the chemical has been researched and the products are safe.

>> anti-bacterial soaps are effective. they do what they say they do. they kill germs on the skin that can make us sick.

>> reporter: the proposed rule requires the industry to prove that. otherwise the products may have to be reformulated, relabeled or removed from the market. in the meantime, for moms like lisa the fda concerns amount to a flashing yellow light.

>> every day i'm thinking what is in our environment that could be a possible trigger for my child or any other child. anti-bacterial soaps have crossed my mind. whether a product americans use every day is truly safe and effective. the fda says if the new framework goes into effect the companieses would have until september 2016 to prove it. we reached out to dial, one of the biggest makers of anti-bacterial soaps . it says it is committed to ensuring products and ingredients meet the tough standards and their own safety standards as well. to check if your product has it, it is one of the first active ingredients . you can see it listed under