Environmental Hazards

Antibacterial Additives

Germs: good or bad?
Image: Shutterstock

In millions of offices and schools around the world, people are using hand sanitizer to avoid germs.  In some cases, they are used in lieu of hand-washing altogether.  However, some are now questioning the effectiveness and safety of these “sanitizers.”

Do they really work?  While many claim to kill 99 percent of germs, there is evidence to prove that is not always the case.  Americans alone spend $175 million on hand sanitizers.  Are they getting a bargain, or are they just being ripped off?

Alcohol-based gels and sprays only kill certain microbes.  A 2011 CDC study found that long-term care facilities where staff used alcohol-based hand sanitizer were six times more likely to have outbreaks of norovirus than facilities where staffers lathered up with soap and water.

Are they safe, though?  In a 2012 study, reports indicated that the antibacterial chemical triclosan impaired muscle function in fish and mice, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Colorado.  Triclosan may be an edocrine-disrupting chemical which wreaks havoc on our hormone regulation.  It breaks down into dioxin, a known carcinogen.  The additive, also found in soaps, deodorants and cleaning products is currently under investigation by the FDA .

Are all germs really bad? Not according to a study from Northwestern University which found that early exposure to germs may prevent diseases later in life.  In the study, kids who grew up in ultra-clean homes had higher levels of inflammation, which can raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.  Conversely, kids who grow up in less hygienic environments have five to seven times lower levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein as young adults.  It seems kids need to be exposed to some germs to naturally build up their immunity.

So, before you rush for the hand sanitizer, think about washing your hands instead.


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