As if I don't have enough things in my life to be irritated about, my kid came home from school yesterday with a box of pencils. Oh, but not just any pencils, pencils impregnated with Microban. In little print, it says: "Microban protection inhibits the growth of odor and stain causing bacteria on the pencil."
Why? Why do we care that our pencils don't smell, and don't get stained? Why? Is it worth subjecting our small children to chemicals to kill these little bacteria? I - because I am that kind of crank - started googling Microban.
"Today, Americans are spending more and more time at their desks in school, work or home offices. Dirty desktops can create the ideal conditions for damaging microbes to grow and reproduce. In a recent study, researchers found that the average desk had 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat.
Built-in Microban antimicrobial technology provides an added level of cleanliness for your office and school products by inhibiting the uncontrolled growth of microbes, such as bacteria that can cause odors and product deterioration."
Read that closely. Maybe the desk is covered with bacteria, but this product is only going to kill the bacteria that "cause odors and product deterioration" - not bacteria that might actually make you sick.
Furthermore, Microban is vague about what chemical is in those pencils:
"Microban utilizes a broad range of antimicrobial technologies to meet the specific needs of your product application. We’ll evaluate your efficacy requirements, manufacturing processes, product usage conditions and durability needs to find the right antimicrobial solution for your unique product."
A few of the weblinks I turned up indicated that it could be triclosan in those pencils, a chemical one really doesn't want in the hands of prepubescent girls because it's an endocrine disrupter, like BPA. And how many people do you know that chew pencils, or just hold them in their teeth while they're pulling out the measuring tape? There, triclosan in your mouth!
SafeMama notes: "It just feeds into people’s paranoia about germs and nothing else. I don’t think we’re all going to die if everything we own isn’t protected by Microban."
Rodale points out that not only are antibacterial products unnecessary, they're likely to be more expensive too.
And the The Daily Green led me to an NRDC blog and from there to the HuffPo. And friends sent me some more links, like a fact sheet from Beyond Pesticides, and an article from the Sacramento Business Journal. That's about when when my head exploded.
Granted, the FDA says that "Triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans." At the same time, the FDA is reviewing Triclosan, because "animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation". Further, "for other consumer products, FDA has not received evidence that the triclosan provides an extra benefit to health. At this time, the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water."
Now, to be perfectly honest, I think I bought these pencils. Last spring, when the PTA sent out the information about school supplies, I took the easy route and ordered the kit from the PTA's recommended supplier - the price was good, and I felt like I was supporting the PTA. According to my daughter, most of the kids in the room seem to have the same pencils so presumably a lot of parents ordered from Supplies To Please. But really? If I had known that the pencils were going to be anti-microbial, I wouldn't have placed the order - I'd have gone to Staples and picked out plain old pencils.
Come on. Pencils are pencils. They might get smelly or moldy. So what? Wash your hands and get on with your day. Or throw the damned pencil out - it's not like they're expensive or likely to last for a long time.
The only way we're going to stop the manufacturers from putting anti-bacterial crap in everything is to stop buying it. I never do, but still I have a box of anti-microbial pencils in my house. And yes, you can be sure I've sent all of this information to my kid's school.
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