Triclosan is commonly found in liquid antibacterial hand soaps and sanitizers, dishwashing detergents, shaving gels, toothpastes, clothing and even children's toys. It was originally designed as a surgical scrub for people in the medical field, but is now used in pesticides and a variety of different consumer products to ward off pathogens.
It is so common in popular consumer goods that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), traces of triclosan can be found in the urine of about 75 percent of the population.
Triclosan is used because it is believed to be a powerful antibacterial and antifungal agent, however other than as a treatment for gingivitis in toothpaste, there is no evidence that it provides any benefits in other consumer product applications.
A 2005 advisory panel to the FDA agreed, noting that there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps with triclosan work any better than plain soap and water.
"The proliferation of triclosan in everyday consumer products is so enormous, it is literally in almost every type of product - [it's in] most soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothes and toys," explained Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who has been urging federal regulators to reevaluate the safety of triclosan in consumer products.
"It's in our drinking water, it's in our rivers and as a result, it's in our bodies, [and] I don't think a lot of additional data has to be collected in order to make the simple decisions about children's toys and soaps that people use. It clearly is something that creates a danger."
The Soap and Detergent Association, a group that represents the $30 billion U.S. cleaning products industry, was quick to defend the safety of triclosan, insisting that decades of research verify the chemical is safe and effective.
But many other are not buying it, including the Natural Resources Defense Council which believes that triclosan use should be restricted.
According to reports, the FDA has allegedly been working for over 38 years to establish rules for the use of triclosan but has not completed the assignment. Throughout this time the agency has continued to approve its usage, including a 1997 decision to allow its use in Colgate Total toothpaste, but is now reevaluating that decision.