They’re coming for your hand soap

Derek Hunter Contributor
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To say the government regulates everything is an understatement. Aside from the black market, which is only unregulated insofar as it avoids taxes and bypasses age restrictions on such things as alcohol (not including illegal products), there really isn’t much in which the government doesn’t have a hand. And now they’re thinking about coming after your hand…well, your hand soap, anyway.

Antimicrobial hand soaps and body washes are very popular, especially in cold and flu season. They’ve been found to be effective in limiting the spread of bacteria, which is why they’re so popular. But, like anything people like, there are people who don’t like it, and the people who don’t like something are rarely content until their will is imposed upon everyone else.

In this case, the people who don’t like it are the left-wing environmentalists who don’t seem to like much of anything humans concoct to improve people’s quality of life. Their usual modus operandi is being followed in this case. Rather than trying to make a case for or against something, these groups have taken to the courts. Why the courts? Because the government can’t ban something, in this case the antimicrobial agent Triclosan, without proof of some sort that it’s harmful, whereas the courts, let’s just say they’re a little less constrained.

This hasn’t stopped some liberal politicians from calling for a ban of Triclosan, too. Not wanting to be left behind in any potential hysteria, Congressman Ed Markey, the leading voice in Congress calling for regulating the internet, and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter have called for a ban. Note Slaughter’s letter and the artful use of phrases like “have raised concerns about possible environmental effects” and “potential effects on human health.” That’s a lot of qualifiers, but they’re needed because there isn’t any proof. But Congress so rarely lets proof get in the way of a good story.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is suing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in an attempt to get the FDA to move against Triclosan, even though the FDA’s own testing has shown that the antimicrobial agent does not harm humans.

The public isn’t buying it either. A recent survey found 74% of consumers use antimicrobial hand soap, 84% have no concerns about it and two-thirds would be upset if the government banned it. But, as illustrated by the health care debate and outcome last year, what the public wants matters little to far too many people elected to represent their will.

Why would a liberal environmental group be suing over something that helps prevent illness? Is it that they’re simply anti-people? Well, they claim it’s harmful to humans and the environment, pretty much what they claim for everything they oppose, despite a lack of evidence. We’ve seen this before, with disastrous effects.

The pesticide DDT was used for years to control the mosquito population, the main source of the deadly disease malaria. DDT use effectively eliminated malaria from the United States and saved millions of lives around the world. Then a book came along and everything changed.

In 1962, biologist Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, in which she claimed that DDT and other pesticides caused cancer. From that book the modern environmental movement was born, and a race was on to ban DDT. In 1972, despite a lack of evidence that DDT causes cancer (something that hasn’t been proven to this day), DDT was banned in the United States. The Stockholm Convention, which took effect in 2004, banned most uses of DDT worldwide. The ban strips us of our strongest weapon in the fight against malaria, a disease that takes nearly one million lives each year.

So, thanks to a ban sparked by an unproven theory, fanned by an environmental-industrial complex looking to make a name for itself and enforced by governments around the world, the best defense against malaria that is routinely used today is a net under which people sleep. That’s right, a net over their beds. So people in tropical regions of the planet are protected from disease carrying mosquitoes…when they sleep.

It’s little wonder that the number of malaria deaths continues to rise, DDT continues to be banned and environmentalists continue to not be very concerned.

Not that banning antimicrobial hand soap is the same as banning DDT, but that can be a matter of perspective.

In hospitals, antimicrobial hand soap has been shown to be effective in preventing the spread of diseases from patients to doctors, then to other patients. This is particularly important to the elderly, whose immune systems are susceptible to infection. Yet environmental groups, who claim bed nets are as effective as killing mosquitoes with DDT, claim regular soap is as effective as antimicrobial soap. This claim can be dismissed by logic alone. Let us hope we never find ourselves in a position to have hard data proving it.

Derek Hunter is a Washington based writer and consultant. He can be stalked on Twitter @derekahunter