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Editorial columns

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Soap firms must come clean in ’14

Soap companies don’t seem to think soap really gets people, or dishes, clean. About half their liquid soaps are fortified with bacteria-killing chemicals.

Soap companies say evidence shows that these products kill more germs than ordinary soap does. That’s debatable, but it’s not even the point. There’s no benefit to killing germs unless the result is less illness. And there is no good evidence that antimicrobials protect health.

Over the next year, soapmakers will have to either prove their germ-killing products are safe and effective or take them off the market, the Food and Drug Administration has ruled.

Research suggests soapmakers have an uphill climb to meet the FDA’s demand. In a 2007 survey of multiple studies, not a single one of four trials showed a significant reduction in illness symptoms in households that used antimicrobial soap.

The soap industry will also have to address new indications that some of these products may be harmful.

The most common agent in antimicrobial soaps is triclosan. Studies suggest triclosan and the related agent triclocarban may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria that cause disease in humans.

More than 2 million people fall ill with antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. each year, and at least 23,000 die.

These are hardly risks worth taking.

If soap companies can’t prove their products work, the FDA should ban them.

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