Elevated Levels of Triclocarban Associated with Soap Use in Puerto Rico

Recent analysis from the CRECE Center, which draws on the PROTECT cohort to study effects of in-utero exposure on child development, reveals strong correlations between the use of specific bar soap brands and urinary triclocarban levels. Triclocarban has historically been used in antibacterial soaps, but the chemical was banned by the Food & Drug Administration in 2016, largely due to health concerns related to its endocrine disrupting properties. The analysis, which was published in Environment International, found that elevations of urinary triclocarban were far higher in the study area in northern Puerto Rico than in the general United States population.

Ashrap et al. studied the concentrations of triclocarban, seven phenols and four parabens in the urine of 1003 pregnant women in the study in Northern Puerto Rico between 2010 and 2016. Participants also answered questionnaire data on personal care product use. Triclocarban was detected in 93% of urine samples, with a median concentration of 2.6 ng/mL, which was 37 times higher than the 0.07ng/mL median concentration in women of reproductive age in the general United States population. In addition, mean concentrations of triclocarban were 4-fold higher in women reporting use of bar soap than those who reported no use. Women who reported using brands of bar soap with higher amounts of triclocarban in the 48 hours preceding urine collection also had higher triclocarban concentrations compared with those who used brands with lower amounts of triclocarban.

Distribution of Urinary Triclocarban Concentrations among Different Brands of Bar Soap User and Non-Users Self-reported in the 48-h Recall. The percentage number listed in the parenthesis is the active ingredient (triclocarban) content in the corresponding brand product. Number (n) of participants using the particular brands are 60 (brand 1), 12 (brand 2), 401 (brand 3), 163 (brand 4), 185 (brand 5), 15 (brand 6), and 167 (non-users).

The analysis also reviewed Bisphenol A (BPA) concentrations from samples between 2011 and 2016. BPA is a plasticizing chemical commonly used in food and beverage packaging, as well as other plastics. Like triclocarban, BPA is an endocrine disruptor that may cause adverse health effects even at low doses. In the this cohort, BPA concentrations decreased over time, likely due to manufacturers phasing out BPA from their packaging as a result of public pressure. However, the data show an increase in BPS concentrations over time, suggesting that manufacturers are replacing BPA with BPS—a chemical with very similar properties and health implications.

Research has suggested that endocrine disruptors may be a factor in spontaneous preterm births, low birth weight, and other adverse birth outcomes. The association between product use and triclocarban as well as the temporal trends regarding BPA and BPS indicate that personal care products, food packaging, and other widely-used materials are contributing to elevated levels of these chemicals in the body. While more research is needed to determine the exact health effects of triclocarban and BPA/BPS, it is clear that interventions are required to help reduce exposures to these potentially harmful contaminants.


Pahriya Ashrap, Deborah J. Watkins, Antonia M. Calafat, Xiaoyun Ye, Zaira Rosario, Phil Brown, Carmen M. Vélez-Vega, Akram Alshawabkeh, José F. Cordero, John D. Meeker. “Elevated concentrations of urinary triclocarban, phenol and paraben among pregnant women in Northern Puerto Rico: Predictors and trends.” Environment International. Available online 11 October 2018.