Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
The chemical triclosan has been linked to cancer-cell growth and disrupted development in animals. Regulators are reviewing whether it’s safe to put in soap, cutting boards and toys. Consumer companies are phasing it out. Minnesota voted in May to ban it in many products.
At the same time, millions of Americans are putting it in their mouths every day, by way of a top-selling toothpaste that uses the antibacterial chemical to head off gum disease -- Colgate-Palmolive Co.’s Total.
Total is safe, Colgate says, citing the rigorous Food and Drug Administration process that led to the toothpaste’s 1997 approval as an over-the-counter drug. A closer look at that application process, however, reveals that some of the scientific findings Colgate put forward to establish triclosan’s safety in toothpaste weren’t black and white -- and weren’t, until this year, available to the public.
Colgate’s Total application included 35 pages summarizing toxicology studies on triclosan, which the FDA withheld from view. The agency released the pages earlier this year in response to a lawsuit over a Freedom of Information Act request. Later, following inquiries from Bloomberg News, the FDA put the pages on its website.
The pages show how even with one of the U.S.’s most stringent regulatory processes -- FDA approval of a new drug -- the government relies on company-backed science to show products are safe and...