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Ask Rolf Halden about antimicrobials during Aug. 29 Facebook Live chat.
FDA to ban harmful antimicrobials, thanks to ASU scientist's research.
August 25, 2017

Upcoming ban on personal-care products containing prominent antimicrobials a direct result of Rolf Halden's research

Arizona State University scientist Rolf Halden jokes that his real job is to scare the public, but in the course of his work he has made the public healthier.

Starting at the beginning of September, the Food and Drug Administration will prohibit the sale of personal-care products containing prominent antimicrobials, including triclosan and triclocarban — prized for their antimicrobial properties. The ban is a direct result of Halden’s research, which started in 2002.

“I want to rattle people’s cages to make them aware of what’s happening in our world,” said Halden, director of ASU’s Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering and the lead author of the Florence Statement, a declaration signed by more than 200 scientists and medical professionals that laid out a convincing case against why these two antimicrobials are harmful.

“Oftentimes science is so detailed that the message can easily be lost, so I try to communicate what these things are about and why they’re important. They should be things we care about; otherwise, we shouldn’t be spending tax dollars on them.”

HaldenHalden is also a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and a senior sustainability scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability. has long contended triclosan and triclocarban are often ineffective in safeguarding the public from harmful microbes and, further, pose significant risks to human health and the environment by contaminating air, soil and water.

The FDA’s ruling only applies to consumer hand washes and soaps. The restriction does not extend to building and household products that are outside the purview of the FDA but still contain hazardous and ineffective antimicrobials sold throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Still, the FDA’s ruling is a major victory for consumers.

ASU Now caught up with Halden before his Aug. 29 Q&A, which will be livestreamed on ASU’s Facebook page starting at 11 a.m. Hosted by Knowledge Enterprise Development, the half-hour session will feature Halden discussing his work and answering audience questions. 

Question: You’ve often said it’s your job to scare people. What do you mean by that?

Answer: I want to rattle people’s cages to make them aware of what’s happening in our world. Everything that people encounter on the shelves at the store they believe is safe to use. But if you look at the underpinnings of what products and materials get manufactured into commerce, there are very few safeguards. The thing to remember is that we should never turn off our common sense and we should always ask questions.

For example, if you have ants or pests in your house and you go to the store to buy pesticides to kill them — if you decide to use these chemicals, beware that they could possibly do harm to you as well. When things are very powerful, they can work both ways — for the good and for the bad. So it’s my job is to make people think just a little bit more about their health and safety.

Q: There is an assumption that the FDA will safeguard us from all things that are unsafe. Is that expectation too lofty or naïve?

A: I think overall the FDA is doing a pretty good job. There are also mechanisms that tend to push products and chemicals which are not necessary and which pose risks in certain environments. There are marketing mechanisms that tend to increase the desire to have certain chemicals or products, resulting in mass production. The more you make of a problematic chemical, the bigger the risk that it harms you or that it gets around in your house, your country or around the globe.

We have many examples of chemicals that travel places and do any harm. Keeping an eye on production and making sure they aren’t running out of rudder with respect to volume is important. If something is declared safe but only was deemed to be used by a few, while all of a sudden the chemical is widely produced and used by everyone, it ramps up everything, including the risk. So ultimately it’s the responsibility of the consumer.

A lot of people say they hate chemistry, although chemistry is the science that makes up everything. Chemistry decides on the way you look and live, and is linked to emotions and behavior. It’s a very, very powerful and certainly underappreciated scientific discipline.

Q: How big of a victory is the FDA ruling?

A: Ultimately it’s rewarding for the science community — to see the results of their labor and work that translates into something tangible. This is an example where the work of many people has resulted in a conclusion that can help us protect people better if we can reduce these types of chemicals into our living environment. Ultimately it’s a very rewarding situation, and it doesn’t happen very often. It’s not common that chemicals get removed from products in the United States.

We must also understand these chemicals are not entirely disappearing. The FDA only regulates a certain amount of products under their purview. It’s in a lot of other products: carpets, socks, shoes, and other things that can be impregnated with triclosan and other antibacterials. There is still a need for vigilance on the side of the consumer to know that something can be harmful and avoided unless it’s really needed. It’s only being banned in soaps because it’s all the FDA. can do. There is still a need to translate this ban to other products as well.

Q: How often does the FDA listen to scientists, and how often does it change its mind when confronted with scientific evidence?

A: The FDA is always listening and absorbing science. There is an intrinsic problem with the fact that there’s always knowledge, and that knowledge gained is eventually added on. As a scientist, we tend to think that recent studies are always more thorough and better designed and therefore are more reliable. Industry, on the other hand, tends to go back to studies that are older and oftentimes did not report any adverse effects. It’s often the job of the FDA to weigh in on this and reach a fair judgment that keeps people safe.

For everything we study, there are always studies that show there are potential problems. It’s a delicate process to decide whether or not the integration of these types of chemicals ultimately serves public health or not. The FDA reached the right conclusion in removing these antimicrobial chemicals from the market.

Q: Let’s discuss triclosan and triclocarban and the impacts they have on people and the environment.

A: Triclosan and triclocarban are chemicals that resemble in many ways the chemicals that we mass-produced and then banned in the 1970s. Things like DDTDichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) were produced as the first of the modern synthetic insecticides in the 1940s. It was initially used to combat malaria, typhus and the other insect-borne human diseases among both military and civilian populations. It also was effective for insect control in crop and livestock production, institutions, homes and gardens. comes to mind, and it was assumed to be safe at the time. We now know that this chemical is persistent and bio-accumulative. Once it gets stored into our body it stays with us for a long time. These are chemicals you want to avoid.

But we’ve done the opposite. We’ve really ramped up production and gone through millions of pounds. So for us now it is difficult to provide even a control sample of these chemicals because they are everywhere. They are in paints, carpets, sofas, and also get into the lab environment as unwanted contaminants. Nintey-seven percent of women in American have triclosan in their breast milk. It’s a chemistry that didn’t serve us well in the past and it needs to go away. It needs to be replaced with better chemistry, sustainable or greener chemistry that’s more compatible with nature. We should mass-produce products that do not destroy our environment.

Q: The ban will go into effect in September. Does President Donald Trump or any other entity have the power reverse this decision?

A: It would be undesirable to do so. This decision also involves a lawsuit and consent decree. So for that reason, this just isn’t a political move and is difficult to reverse in the United States. What we hope is that through the coverage of this ban other countries and nations will take a closer look at them.

Ultimately, we all live in one big bubble, our planet's atmosphere. When we ban a chemical here in the U.S. and it’s mass-produced in other places around the world, it still comes to us. We banned DDT in the 1970s, and it’s still being produced in other parts of the world. It actually travels atmospherically and comes back to visit and is detectable in everyone.

Q: Going forward, what’s the next problem or challenge you plan on tackling in this domain?

A: Triclosan and triclocarban and other antimicrobials are symptomatic only; we need to leapfrog from an old type of chemistry that has provided services but has come at great environmental cost. We need a new generation of chemicals.

It’s a difficult transition because we have built this pipeline that likes to take in fuel-based, non-recyclable resources. Ultimately, we have to make this transition because we are running out of the feedstocks we have used in the past. There are better alternatives. The challenge is to communicate the risk of existing chemicals and to build political momentum and the will to transition to safer and greener alternatives.

Q: What can consumers do on their end?

A: I would suggest they use common sense. Say if a chemical is advertised as killing a lot of things, it also probably poses risks to human health. If you decide to buy it, then it should probably be stored in a safe place. If you don’t need to have a product in your living space, or if you smell it all the time, it probably means you’re getting exposed.

For example, everybody loves new-car smell. Well, new-car smell is actually the plasticizers that come out of plastics and these chemicals are known to act as endocrine disruptors. So people need to change their mind-set about their sensory perception and what it means. If they can smell something that’s prominent, that should serve as a warning signal.


Top photo: ASU Professor Rolf Halden, director of the Center for Environmental Health Engineering at the Biodesign Institute, talks about his fight to get the FDA to ban two antimicrobial agents — triclosan and triclocarban — in one of the chemistry labs on the Tempe campus on Thursday. The ban takes effect in September for the chemicals' use in soaps. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Innovation is everywhere at ASU, especially inside the classroom.
Pre-recorded lectures give ASU students more time for questions in class.
ASU lecturer's YouTube videos make business education available to everyone.
Telepresence robot allows ASU professor to teach remotely.
August 30, 2017

Professors use variety of techniques to better reach students, prepare them for future

Arizona State University Associate Professor Professor Michael Tueller walks down the flight of 26 steps that serves as the entrance to Arizona State’s Hayden Library.

He takes the elevator to the third floor, swipes his ID card and puts everything into place. The lightboard is set up, the camera is focused and he presses play.

He’s now ready to begin lecturing.

This summer, Tueller has utilized Hayden’s mkrstudio, a film and audio room that gives users high-quality production value for their presentations. Recording lectures for his Greek language and literature coursesin the School of International Letters and Cultures, Tueller has proved that the studio can be used by faculty and students alike.

“What’s great about ASU is the extent to which they’ve set it up so I can use it without much assistance,” Tueller said. “The library’s mkrspace initiative as a whole has various innovative media resources that can be used by ordinary folks. That is something that not many other schools do.”

Tueller is one of many ASU professors using new techniques to further the school's innovation reputation. These methods help keep students engaged, as well as prepare them for an ever-changing future.

With one unit taking about four hours a day to record, Tueller taped his 20 units of material in just over 80 hours this summer. His days were spent using a glass chalkboard that allows viewers to see the professor’s face as he writes, with the Greek letters and words shining aglow in front of him (pictured above).

The idea of giving students the material prior to class so the in-person time could be spent drilling and going over homework dates back to when Tueller was a graduate student at Harvard. However, it wasn’t until he got ahold of mkrstudio that he had been able to replicate that teaching style in Tempe.

“If a parent is wondering if their kids are getting as good a classical education as they do at Harvard, I can tell them they are,” Tueller said. “Because I was the one who was teaching Greek then, and now it is the same class.”

According to Britt Lewis, ASU Library communications specialist, teaching courses through mkrstudio is just the start of what can be accomplished with the new technology.

“Having free access to high-quality production equipment is hugely beneficial to students and faculty looking to learn new skills and create something original,” she said. “The library is happy to offer the resources and spaces in which to do that.”

Business school professor goes viral providing lectures to everyone

"Now I know most of you have spent your childhood evenings dreaming of taking your first supply chain management course," deadpans Eddie Davila, a senior lecturer in ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business.

This is the first line of a 12-part lecture series that Davila uploaded to YouTube for free back in 2010. The videos have since combined to total more than 3 million hits, reaching far-flung corners of the world in the name of supply chain management.

“It was made so that it could be shared with everyone,” Davila said. “They are being used at other universities and by people all over the world, and they get to see the ASU logo on it every single time.”

Davila, who has been teaching at ASU for about 20 years now, seemingly struck gold with the videos he made seven years ago. Using an entertaining and unique style of lecturing on one of the top programs at ASU, his series was timed perfectly with the start of an age where almost everyone in the world has their face in their phone or in front of a computer at all times.

“Some people in education think our job is to teach students and not entertain them,” he said. “I disagree. If I just wanted to teach them, I could tell the kids to read a book.”

Davila’s style of teaching has earned praise from both his students and peers, and his courses now regularly feature more than 200 enrollees.

“Eddie is one of the most dynamic faculty members I know,” said Kay Faris, a senior associate dean at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “He is a master at getting his message and concepts across to students, and they overwhelmingly respond to his teaching style.”

Ultimately, Davila plans to keep working on making education available to everyone, a passion that aligns with ASU's commitment to access through programs such as the Global Freshman Academy.

Robots take over in journalism school

Man smiling
Eric Newton

Can you teach a class without actually being at class? ASU Professor of Practice Eric Newton has found a way — helpful when academic business takes him out of town.

With the assistance of a telepresence robot named Scotty (as an ode to Star Trek), Newton has taught his Innovation Tools class at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication with some help from the virtual-presence device.

However, instructing a classroom full of students isn’t the only thing the robot is capable of.

“It helps all kinds of people come to our journalism school when they aren’t physically in Phoenix,” Newton said. “We can drive it from any device that holds the Beam software — a laptop, an iPad, even an iPhone. It assists with high school recruiting, attending meetings from afar, and I’ve even used it to take the school’s entire freshman class on tours of Cronkite NewsCronkite News is the news division of Arizona PBS. The daily news products are produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University..”

Ian MacSpadden, director of broadcast engineering and operations at Arizona PBS, has collaborated with Newton on several different projects in their time at ASU. That included the Cronkite School’s first-ever Innovation Day, where some of the brightest young minds in journalism got to see some of the new tools that could help them in their future endeavors.

“Eric was able to bring in new technologies for students to explore,” MacSpadden said. “Journalists focus on language, image, audio and the new technology that comes along with them. We were able to demo drones, virtual-reality headsets, new cameras and immersive-experience technology.”

Newton’s alternate job title at ASU is “Innovation Chief,” and that title is something he has been working toward since the first journalism class he ever taught.

“I was a young teacher (at a university that shall remain nameless) and just went by textbook,” he said. “One day, I realized I was teaching copy editing symbols to students who would never actually use them. I [knew then] that I never wanted to do anything like that again.”


Top photo: ASU Associate Professor Mike Tueller records online lessons in ancient Greek in the mkrspace studio at Hayden Library. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now