NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Antibacterial products are more popular than ever, with sales reaching more than $1 billion. That boost is due in part to fears over infectious diseases like swine flu and SARS.

From soaps to lotions to household cleansers and hand sanitizers, more and more people are turning to antibacterial brands to kill germs, CBS 2’s Dr. Holly Phillips reports.

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Since the 1950s, when antibacterial soaps first hit the market, they’ve been growing in popularity as well as controversy.

First there were charges that overusing the cleansers could kill off good bacteria — leaving only the strongest and most resistant behind. Now there are new concerns that the chemicals in the products that give them their antibacterial properties may be potentially harmful to one’s health.

“There’s several problems with these chemicals Triclosan and Triclocarban,” Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist Jennifer Sass said.

Sass said several studies show these chemicals can interfere with hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

“If you are a person who has a genetic susceptibility to a hormone-related cancer like a breast cancer or a prostate cancer, then if this raises or lowers certain hormones that might add to your risk,” Sass said.

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Sass said the chemicals have also been linked to developmental problems. Now, her organization is suing the Food and Drug Administration for allegedly failing to regulate their use in consumer goods sooner.

“Our particular concern is when young children are exposed and pregnant women might be exposing their unborn child,” Sass said.

In a statement, the FDA responded saying: “We are engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review…” of the products. The agency went on to say… “FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products…at this time.”

But at the Moonsoup Early Childhood Development Center in Manhattan, Director Susan Izatt said she’s not taking any chances. Izatt said she will shy away from antibacterial products and instead use things like alcohol.

“We know what it is, it’s been around for forever, it kills germs and it evaporates and goes away very quickly,” Izatt said.

Sass said if you must choose an antibacterial product — like a hand sanitizer — an alcohol-based product is recommended because it does not contain the chemicals in question.

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