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Minn. could be first state to ban common antibacterial ingredient

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Minnesota is expected to soon become the first state to ban the chemical triclosan -- a common ingredient in antibacterial hand soap.

Both the House and Senate have voted to phase out the chemical in consumer hand soap and body wash by 2017. The bill needs a final vote in the House before being sent to Gov. Mark Dayton, who is expected to sign it. 

Environmental groups including Friends of the Mississippi River had pushed to ban triclosan sooner, but water program director Trevor Russell said the action is already leading manufacturers to change their products. Companies like Proctor and Gamble and GlaxoSmithKline are among those phasing out triclosan.

"Industry's not going to wait until December 2016 to replace these products," Russell said. "We know they're working right now to replace triclosan with safer, more effective alternatives. So the bill may go into effect in 2017 but we're going to start seeing triclosan come out of consumer products immediately."

Triclosan is added to some hand soaps and body washes, but research has shown it washes down the drain and can build up in the environment. That's a concern because under the right conditions, it could form harmful dioxins. 

Some public health experts have said triclosan soap isn't any better than plain soap in getting rid of germs.

The House last week voted down broader language phasing out triclosan, citing opposition from Ecolab, a Minnesota-based company that supplies hygiene products to hospitals, restaurants and other businesses.

Russell said his group worked with Ecolab and other industry groups to postpone the phase-out date to January 2017 and narrow the ban to consumer soaps and body washes. The latest measure does not affect companies like Ecolab who manufacture products that are sold to hospitals and restaurants.

The triclosan phase-out is contained in a bill that also includes a ban on formaldehyde in children's products and certain uses of lead and mercury.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce also opposed the triclosan ban. Environmental Policy Director Tony Kwilas said the chamber was thankful for the scaled-back version of the bill but still opposes it. 

"We never support a product by product ban," he said. "We think it should be dealt with on the federal level."