The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has delayed issuing a ruling on the antibacterial triclosan's use in hand sanitizers, soaps, toothpastes and other personal care and consumer products until 2012.

Public health groups, environmental watchdog organizations and natural products manufacturers have raised concerns about the synthetic antimicrobial for decades, citing its ability to ransack hormones and hinder neurodevelopment in animals, cause antibacterial resistance and persist in the environment.

The FDA originally stated that it would issue a verdict by spring 2011, after reviewing research tied to the chemical’s potential human health and environmental impacts, but no verdict came. The delay stems from new studies that the agency must review, according to FDA Spokeswoman Shelly Burgess.

Last December, 82 environmental and public health organizations petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency—which regulates triclosan in pesticides and home care products, while the FDA oversees its use in personal care and other consumer products—to examine research surrounding triclosan’s adverse health and environmental impacts and issue a ban that would extend to FDA-regulated realms. 

The FDA has stated previously that soaps and sanitizers containing triclosan are no more effective in cleaning hands or staving off illness than triclosan-free soaps. (The agency has acknowledged, however, that triclosan added to toothpaste can help fight gingivitis.)

Natural industry one step ahead of FDA

Some personal care and cleaning products manufacturers are taking the precautionary route and swapping triclosan for natural or less-concerning antimicrobials. Others, such as Henkel, the German manufacturer of triclosan-laced Dial Complete liquid hand soap, dispute the definiteness of triclosan studies and are sticking by their formulations, according to a recent New York Times report.

While most natural products retailers don’t carry triclosan-containing soaps, and health-savvy consumers know to avoid them, the hand soaps and sanitizers found in restrooms, doctor’s offices, banks, shopping malls and other public buildings often contain triclosan.