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The Harmful Effects of Toxic Cleaning Products on the Environment

Do harmful cleaning products pollute the water? Do harmful cleaning product pollute the environment? Can cleaning products with phosphate cause “dead zones” in lakes and streams? Read on to find out.

Regular cleaning products may be low-cost, but they have many hidden costs to the environment. Chemicals from household bleach, detergents, dish-soaps and toilet cleaners can leach into the soil and into our water without decomposing for decades.

In 2002, a nationwide study was conducted on 139 streams to determine if they were contaminated with man-made chemicals. Up to 80% of them were. Many of these chemicals are known to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with the hormones of animals and people and lead to ill effects especially to our reproductive systems. They can also be neurotoxic and carcinogenic or cancer-causing.

Harmful cleaning products can cause “dead zones” in our water.

Cleaning products with phosphates, for example, can cause “dead zones” in lakes and streams. Dead zones are areas in our oceans, lakes, and streams that contain little to no oxygen, and are therefore unable to support aquatic life. These dead zones are caused by pollution of human activities.

Detergents used in dishwashing soap are rich in phosphates which cause algae and plankton to flourish in waterways. These algae use up all the oxygen, leaving these dead zones where no fish or other plant life can flourish.

Here are some of the chemicals that may be polluting our water:

Triclosan is an antibacterial chemicals that can damage the thyroid glands of animals. It is not found in over 60% of streams in the United States. Triclosan combines with tap water to form chemicals that are linked to the formation of cancer. This chemical can accumulate within the bodies of animals who unknowingly drink contaminated water. Many scientists also suspect that as bacteria becomes more frequently exposed to triclosan, they can develop resistance and spawn what is known as “super bacteria” that is resistant to regular disinfectants. The American Medical Association (AMA) has officially issued a warning against using antibacterial products for regular home cleaning in order to prevent bacterial resistance.

Phthalates is the name of a broad group of chemicals often present in conventional cleaning products. Chemical manufacturers produce billions of pounds of these every year. These cause reproductive health issues such as birth defects, reduced sperm count in men, damaged sperm DNA, and hormonal abnormalities in babies.

Alkylphenol ethoxylate is used as a surfactant in cleaners, can damage the glands and reproductive systems of the animals who come into contact with polluted water.

The presence of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the water endangers our food supply as well. Male fish who are exposed to these chemical are unable to develop mature eggs in their testes. If the fish in the rivers and oceans have reproductive problems, this can decrease the amount of their spawn and make seafood much harder to come by.

Water treatment facilities can’t protect us from these chemicals.

Cleaning products are also able to enter the environment whenever we rinse them down the drain. Even though most areas have water treatment plants, inadequately treated waste can still be released into the water system, and research shows that this is still the case in most areas.

Water treatment facilities are highly efficient in filtering out biodegradable waste such as food and human or animal excreta. However, wastewater treatment isn’t specific enough to neutralize each one of the thousands of chemicals now present in water drainage from our homes and workplaces.

New chemicals are constantly being introduced to consumers, and water treatment facilities can’t keep up. This is why we cannot rely on water treatment alone to keep our water sources free from pollution. The best and most cost-effective method would be to avoid using these chemicals in the first place. Reduce chemical pollution at the source by using cleaning products that are organic and free from toxins.

Use eco-friendly cleaning products to reduce the chemical burden in our waterways.

Avoid using products containing triclosan, bisphenol A, alkylphenol ethoxylate, or any of the other chemicals mentioned above. Products with labels that say “antibacterial” usually contain triclosan as their active ingredient. Products that have artificial fragrance usually make use of phthalates as carriers.

To be sure that you’re using a product that is safe for the environment and for your health, remember to carefully look at the product labels. Only use products with ingredients that you can actually pronounce, and steer clear from cleaning products that come with warning signs such as “Caution” or “Danger.”

Many eco-friendly products are non-toxic, biodegradable, and made from renewable resources. They also make use of bio-based solvents from citrus, seed, vegetable, and pine oils. These are biodegradable and decompose easily so you don’t have to worry about these substances ending up in the water you drink.

If each individual would take small steps to use green products in their homes, this would greatly reduce the amount of chemicals and toxins that we are dumping into our rivers and oceans. We should make the change to be environmentally-conscious and protect the earth for the generations to come.