The Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to ban the antibacterial chemical triclosan in consumer products, in response to a petition submitted by 82 environmental and public health groups led by Beyond Pesticides and Food & Water Watch.

According to a public notice published in the Federal Register December 8, the petitioners have asked the EPA to “use its authority under various statutes to regulate triclosan,” because the “‘pervasive and widespread use’ of triclosan poses significant risks to human health and the environment.” The EPA opened a 60-day public-comment period that extends through February 7, 2011, after which time the agency will accelerate its review of the chemical to begin a full 10 years ahead of schedule.

Although originally developed for clinical use, triclosan now lurks in all kinds of consumer products, including toys, cutting boards, toothpaste, facial tissues, laundry detergents, deodorant, cosmetics and hand sanitizers. But health-watchdog organizations like the Environmental Working Group have been cautioning against triclosan in everyday items for years.

“Triclosan is a potent antimicrobial chemical that has a legitimate—and necessary—role in health care settings,” said EWG Senior Scientist Olga Naidenko, PhD. “However, overuse of any antibacterial substance when not absolutely necessary carries the risk of development of resistant bacteria. In addition, there’s no research showing that triclosan-containing products [used at home] clean better than plain soap and water.”