On September 2, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of 19 anti-microbial disinfectants, including Triclosan, in consumer products. The FDA ban applies to products that are intended to be washed off with water and reflects an important first step for wastewater treatment plants owners and operators that have long sought the ban of these materials. Unfortunately, the recent ban does not apply to consumer hand sanitizers or wipes, or to products intended for use in health care settings.
Soap manufacturers will have one year to remove these compounds from consumer products, and it is expected that similar product bans will be considered by the FDA in the future.
The proliferation of consumer antiseptic washes and the corresponding increase in the concentrations of triclosan and other chemicals in wastewater influent have raised many potential issues with wastewater treatment utilities.
Approximately 2 or 3 percent of triclosan and triclocarban from wastewater passes through the treatment process and is discharged with the effluent into receiving waters. In the aquatic environments that receive wastewater effluent, triclosan attaches to the surface of suspended solids and sediments, and can be released into the water again when the sediments are disturbed. Triclosan and triclocarban have been shown to bioaccumulate and to have detrimental and estrogenic effects on aquatic life, including algae, crustaceans, and fish.
The presence of triclosan may contribute to failure of whole effluent toxicity (WET) tests, which utilities must conduct on their effluent as part of their Clean Water Act permit requirements. WET tests measure the combined effects on aquatic organisms of all pollutants contained in a wastewater utility’s effluent. Failure of a WET test may result in substantial costs for utilities due to requirements for additional testing and evaluation of the causes of toxicity.
Most of the triclosan and triclocarban contained in wastewater partitions to solids and is therefore present in the biosolids produced by the wastewater treatment process. Many wastewater utilities use their biosolids as fertilizers or soil amendments, and the presence of triclosan has been detected in crops grown in biosolids-amended soils. Furthermore, for utilities that incinerate their biosolids, carcinogenic dioxins may be released due to the burning of triclosan, making it more difficult for utilities to meet their Clean Air Act requirements.