Links to Think

Links to Think: 13.02.04

February 4, 2013


Harmful Handwashing: The Dangers of Antibacterial Soaps – It’s the time of year again (at least in our part of the world) when we suspect sickness to be lurking everywhere, if not just a cough or sneeze away. While I’m not actively using my Biology degree at this season of life, I am recalling many lectures one great micro/biology professor gave and trying to put them to practical use where applicable. One of the things he often discussed was making sure we realized the problems that overuse (and use) of antibacterial gels and soaps could cause, both on a personal level and toward the general population. I feel like this article does a good job of conveying some of the main problems linked with antibacterial soaps and gels:

  • “The antibacterial chemicals are essentially antibiotics.  They are effective in killing bacteria, but do not kill viruses, which are the cause of colds and the flu.
  • The most susceptible bacteria strains are killed when washing your hands, leaving behind the stronger bacteria.  This can lead to strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, such as the MRSA that we hear so much about in the news.
  • Research has shown that exposure to bacteria can actually be good because it strengthens your immune system.   People—especially children—who live in a particularly sterile environment are more prone to infections when they do have exposure to germs.
  • According to the CDC, researchers are finding a link between allergies and the use of antibacterial soaps.  Again, the soaps reduce the need for the immune system to be strengthened, which can cause allergy problems as well.”

The good news is that scientists show that use of good, old fashioned, regular soap is just as effective in washing bacteria and viruses off of our hands as antibacterial soap. All you have to do is lather up and scrub well.  The germ fighting power comes from scrubbing thoroughly and effectively rather than from any chemical additives.  This way you can get rid of most of the germs without knowingly exposing yourself to potentially harmful chemicals.”

Beyond this, the use of antibacterial soaps/gels potentially provides a false sense of security that may lead to a carelessness when thinking about microbial transfer and handling. Looking at things from a slightly different angle, I think there is a sense of fear and hype surrounding sickness that leads to nearly obsessive, yet somewhat misinformed, use of antibacterials. The link also includes further problems of triclosan, one of the most commonly used ingredients in antibacterials.

(Thanks to my friend Kristen for allowing me to engage in discussing this in real life last week. :))

Killer Deals, Prices To Die For – The cost of our love for “cheap” is higher than we think, and it’s often paid for in human costs. My online friend Emeth Hesed has some helpful writing in thinking more about this topic, and how we need to consider stewardship over convenience.

“Just because shopping in modern America has become an impersonal, faceless thing does not mean there are not faces on the other side. We just can’t see them anymore. And many of them are suffering and dying so we can get two for $1 instead of one for $2 or $3 or $4 or $5.

“I believe that shoppers have an ethical responsibility for what they buy, because whatever they buy, they are funding somebody. I found out that all kinds of things I used to buy without thinking are actually contributing to slave labor. I am paying evil men who buy slaves and force them to work in unthinkably horrible situations, being beaten, malnourished, and dying, all for what? So we can buy cheap, low-quality products at Walmart or the dollar store.”

“I don’t believe that legislation will fix anything. I don’t think it will necessarily even help anything. The only real solution is for consumers to become more aware, to start paying attention, for people to examine their consciences about what their money will do to other people before they pounce on a great deal. Whatever the laws are, dishonest businessmen will find a way around them, as long as there is demand for unethically produced items.”

It’s easy to place frugality and greed too close together, and then to allow the lines to blur. I think, too often, we simply spiritualize our greed and call it frugality. But in the market of the world, our greed doesn’t end with us; it has long-term costs, and when we constantly push for the most we can possibly get for the least possible cost, we will inevitably continue to fuel the market for cheap labor, which sometimes comes in the form of slave labor. Either one can be dehumanizing. At the same time, it’s possible to still pay more for cheap trinkets, and the laborer still suffers. (And as my Aunt Becky is always quick to point out–there is a difference between the meanings of cheap and inexpensive.)

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  • Kristen February 4, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    After talking last week, I randomly remembered your mentioned the same thing (hand sanitizer not killing viruses) when we were in college! I can picture where we were walking (Cleveland Park, must have been there on some group outing) when you were talking about hand washing versus hand sanitizer. The things my brain remembers!?! 😀 I’m glad for the reminder through our discussion last week, though. Poor T lives at full and really views stopping to wash his hands as a hardship. Think I need to get some fun soap – and a travel container, too, to replace the hand-sanitizer. 😉 I actually used to carry travel “soap strips” (like Listerine strips) back in the day. 🙂

    • Keren February 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      Ha! I am sorry I was forcing such conversations upon you even then. I have no recollection of that conversation, though! 🙂 Ooh, I will have to get some of those soap strips!