OOS 40-6 - Household cleaning products in aquatic systems: Changing human behavior to prevent contaminations

Thursday, August 9, 2012: 9:50 AM
B113, Oregon Convention Center
Rebecca Sutton1, Sonya Lunder2 and Johanna Congleton2, (1)Environmental Working Group, Oakland, CA, (2)Environmental Working Group

Chemical ingredients in household cleaning supplies contaminate the aquatic environment via discharges of treated wastewater. Key chemicals of concern include: a) phosphates, once common ingredients in laundry and dishwashing detergents and a source of nutrient pollution leading to eutrophication; b) nonylphenol ethoxylate, a surfactant that degrades to nonylphenol, a potent disruptor of fish endocrine systems; and c) pesticides such as triclosan, silver and quaternary ammonium compounds, added to antibacterial cleaning products and inherently toxic to many organisms. In the absence of a broad federal requirement to test ingredients for safety or evaluate the risks that product formulations may pose to aquatic organisms, our understanding of the effects these consumer goods may have on the environment is likely incomplete.

Sufficient state level bans on phosphorus in household laundry and dishwashing detergents have now pushed the industry to find alternatives nationwide. In contrast, voluntary approaches designed to coax manufacturers to use safer ingredients have had more limited success, as evidenced by the continued use of target chemicals in everyday products. European Union regulations to limit toxic ingredients do not necessarily impact products on the American market, as cleaning product formulations are customized for the range of cleaning practices and conditions found in different geographic regions. With no U.S. requirement to disclose ingredients to consumers or public health agencies, the extent of the health and environmental concerns associated with cleaning products is largely hidden from view.


In the absence of significant federal or state regulation either to require ingredient disclosure of household cleaning supplies or to limit use of established health and environmental toxicants, market pressure exerted by educated consumers may prove the most effective means of reducing the risks posed by toxic cleaning ingredients on human and environmental health in the near future.

In an attempt to evaluate human and ecotoxicity concerns posed by various cleaning ingredients and products, Environmental Working Group is compiling the available ingredient information for more than 2,000 household cleaning supplies in the EWG Cleaners Database, to be released to the public this fall. A full assessment of aquatic toxicity is hampered by the lack of ingredient disclosure for cleaning products, particularly with respect to preservative and fragrance mixtures, which often pose high hazard for aquatic organisms.