How Can Washing Dishes Harm Your Health?

Interesting work by researchers at Virginia Tech University has uncovered new concerns about triclosan, an antibacterial chemical commonly used in hand soaps and dishwashing liquids, and how it reacts to chlorinated water to produce significant quantities of chloroform. In fact, the study suggests the reaction of triclosan with chlorine could be producing highly chlorinated dioxins in the presence of sunlight.

The formation of chloroform from triclosan is a major concern, researchers said, particularly because the EPA classifies the compound as a probable human carcinogen. Moreover, the presence of trihalomethanes such as chloroform in drinking water has been linked with human bladder cancers and miscarriages.

After their initial study was completed, researchers did follow-up testing that closely mirrored typical dishwashing habits and conditions, and the results weren't any better. Triclosan reacted with free chlorine to generate more than 50 parts per billion (ppb) of chloroform in the dishwater. Combined with the other trihalomethanes in the water, the additional chloroform could easily ratchet up the concentration of total trihalomethanes to 80 ppb, which is EPA's maximum allowable amount, or higher, scientists said. Moreover, if there's any bromide in the water, the level of trihalomethanes produced during dishwashing is likely to shoot up even higher.

So what can you do to protect your health and that of your family? One expert advises always wearing gloves while you're washing dishes. Also, because triclosan is present in antibacterial soaps too, and level of trihalomethanes in one's blood increases when showering, it's simply not at all beneficial for you to use any products with antibacterial agents.

Environmental Science & Technology April 6, 2005

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