Cancer In The Wash

Detergent Returns Into Your Tap Water

Cancer In The Wash. Healthy Living Magazine

Cancer In The Wash. Healthy Living Magazine

The average wash cycle requires 30 gallons of water.

Altogether, we produce approximately 333 billion gallons of detergent-tainted wastewater annually that flows into underground aquifers, creeks, rivers and lakes on which people depend for drinking water, says indoor air specialist and preferred systems expert Scott W. Albrecht.

Combined with commercial laundry and dishwashing, detergents in wastewater are the second-greatest human contribution to non-organic pollution in the nation, according to E Magazine.

Read: Performance Organic Cleaners

pick your tap water when picking detergent

HealthyLivinG has documented the local impacts of laundry detergents on the hugely popular Chesapeake Bay and reported that due to inorganic nitrogen pollution generated by human activity including the impact of laundry products on private septic systems, the bay’s oyster population is less than 1% of historic numbers, the lowest number ever recorded, according to the Center for Environmental Science at the University of Maryland in College Park. While phosphates are reduced now in laundry products, disposal of detergents into our waters can still be devastating. These products’ corrosiveness and pH levels influence ecological processes such as nitrification, particularly wreaking havoc on septic systems in rural areas.

However, by studying the causes of nitrogen pollution into the bay, environmental scientists are beginning to understand that simple choices people make—such as their laundry and dishwashing products—can have an effect on the decline or recovery of this national treasure.

Read: Natural Deceit

laundry poisons in tap water

HealthyLivinG Foundation testing reveals major brands such as Tide contain 1,4-dioxane, a chemical suspected of causing human cancer and that is emerging as a federal priority pollutant (see tips for finding dioxane-free products). Agencies monitoring drinking water with testing rarely examine dioxane; however, the foundation’s focus on its presence in consumer items, especially detergents poured down the drain, has prompted much more attention and its occurrences are being documented across the continent.

The Foundation reports dioxane contamination in Orange County, California (including Newport Beach where drinking supplies had to be imported), Ann Arbor, Michigan (from wastewater used on a golf course) and in Minnesota where the Department of Health reports 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant that has been found in “waters that could be used as drinking” sources. The groundwater contamination with dioxane has expanded in Washtenaw County, Michigan, “to an area over three miles long and one mile wide. The remediation of this site is likely to take an additional 20 years or more...” The situation in Los Angeles, California, is particularly troubling. The California Department of Public Health found 166 active and standby public groundwater supplies in Los Angeles, Orange Counties; Monterey and Sacramento have had detections of dioxane above the notification level.

Read: Get Fired To Go Green

Dioxane is so miscible it follows plumes and isn’t degraded by conventional treatment plants. According to researchers writing in Chemosphere, “As a groundwater contaminant, 1,4-dioxane is of considerable concern because of its...rapid migration within an aquifer.” Unfortunately, the extent of the problem isn’t well known, since measuring for low levels of dioxane is not a routine toxicological test done on water supplies. Although many dioxane contamination problems are caused by industrial releases, experts acknowledge that persistent inputs from other sources such as commercial products account for some two-thirds of the total. Our laundry detergent choices therefore have an influential impact on local drinking water—and on our very own bodies.

Here’s what the HealthyLivinG Foundation says consumers ought to look for when buying laundry products that do the least personal or ecological harm.

Read: Early Exposure To Dirt

seek products with the highest levels of plant-based ingredients

Green chemistry is enabling companies to highly increase the amount of plant based materials used in their products. They are replacing petrochemically based detergents with those made entirely from sugar cane, using bacterial catalysts (instead of toxic chemicals). The certified organic laundry detergent greenshield organic is entirely plant based. Brands that list linear alkyl sodium sulfonates, petroleum distillates, phenols, nonyl phenol ethoxylates, sodium hypochlorite, fragrance and optical brighteners are highest in the most toxic petroleum compounds. The absence of these on the label is a good sign for least toxicity to personal health and the environment.

Read: Canaries In A Coal Mine

Alcohol ethoxylates

Gain and Tide and other market leaders use petrochemically processed detergents known as “alcohol ethoxylates.” These ingredients contain traces of a chemical called 1,4-dioxane in formulations that can get in the drinking water supplies as the wastewater is emptied into public sewers or groundwater. Other ingredients that might also contain dioxane include polyethylene glycol or PEG compounds and polysorbates. One such example: PEG 300 monooctyl ether. However, some companies such as Seventh Generation and Biokleen have switched to plant-based alcohol ethoxylates made from sugarcane or other vegetarian sources. ECOS Laundry Detergent from Earth Friendly Products is dioxane-free and has been at times one of the few dioxane-free brands in supermarkets. GreenShield organic is entirely plant based and therefore free of this carcinogen, too. These products provide similar performance without returning poisons into your tap water.

synthetic fragrance

Some brands use artificial fragrance. For babies, children and sensitive individuals, fragrance is a leading cause of contact allergies and irritation. Some brands in the natural product category use hybrid compounds made with essential oils and artificial fragrances. The synthetic portion can be composed of hundreds of chemicals. It is this potpourri of chemical additives that makes fragrance a leading cause of allergies among cosmetic users and this same ingredient, even as a hybrid, may have an allergenic effect in laundry products when it leaves its scent residues in clothing. It is estimated about 30% of Americans have sensitivities to scents. The brands that are avoiding this quandary use certified organic natural essential oils like lavender

optical brighteners and xenoestrogens

Nonylphenol ethoxylate detergent, acrylates and optical brighteners used in many products are xenoestrogens, which means they act like the female hormone estrogen. These chemicals exert reproductive effects on offspring by impacting genetics, according to experimental and clinical data. Scientists from Germany’s University of Kaiserslautern examined optical brighteners’ estrogenic effects in a study called “Determining the hormonal activity of food ingredients and environmental contaminants using functional reporter gene assay.” In the test tube, the activity of distyryl-biphenyl sulfonate, a brightener, interacting with human breast cancer cells would “indicate an estrogenic potential.”

Read: Distillation Removes Heavy Metals From Water

chemical stabilizers

Proplyene glycol may be used in so-called natural products as a chemical stabilizer. It has high allergy potential.

sodium hypochlorite and organochlorine by-products

Laundry bleaching may create chlorinated by-products with potentially adverse human health effects, says a study in chemosphere. Laundry bleaching has also been implicated in contributing dissolved organochlorines to municipal wastewater. However, now we know toxic organochlorines are produced and retained in fabric as a result of laundry bleaching. At least two pools of organochlorine chemicals are found in bleached fabric: a portion that diminishes over several months of storage time as well as a more stable fraction that persists after more than one year.

Read: Guilty Of Polluting Nature

“Our results also suggest that residual hypochlorite remains in fabric after laundering with bleach, presenting the possibility of direct and sustained dermal contact with reactive chlorine,” says the study. “This study provides a first step toward identifying a new risk factor for elevated organochlorine body burdens in humans.”

Packaging and life cycle

GreenShield Organic, the only US Department of Agriculture-certified organic laundry detergent, has completely broken free from the petroleum cycle with its plant-based containers using sugarcane instead of oil. Earth Friendly Products avoids adding polluting dyes to color their cleaning products. Also, both companies avoid caustics, salts and environmentally destructive enzymes.

Always check recycling codes. Be sure household cleaning products come in easily recycled materials. Materials such as HDPE (2) are preferred as they are easily recycled. Even bottle caps, scoops and spray tops should be recyclable.

We often don’t think of the water we pour down the drain as simply being recycled from past uses but all water upon earth is recycled. Imagine if all your neighbors switch to the least toxic laundry products. It might mean as much as fewer cancer occurrences on your street.

Read: Dramatic Longevity Change

ReferencesLeri Ac, Anthony LN. formation of organochlorine by-products in bleached laundry. Chemosphere. 2013 Feb;90(6):2041-2049. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2012.10.088. e-pub 2012 Dec 20.
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