Could That Fish Dinner Be Filled With Toxins From Your Cleaning Products?

Some of the chemicals in traditional home cleaning products are so toxic that they make it past any water treatment efforts and end up in the environment where they poison marine life and even your tap water. You could be drinking your laundry detergent! It’s easy to instinctively use these everyday household cleaners because they’ve been a part of our cleaning life for so many years. But it’s time to understand that these products could be doing a great deal of harm to the environment (and your family).  Please take a look at this guide on the environmental dangers of cleaning products and let’s get educated on what to look out for and how to make changes.

Fighting against ecosystem degradation involves enlightening ourselves about cleaning products and the detrimental effects they can have on the environment. Making the switch to eco-friendly cleaning habits with simple baking soda, vinegar, and water is easier than you might think (and just as effective) and 100% more healthy for the environment and you. 

Environmental Concerns Regarding Cleaning Products From The EPA

Cleaning products are released into the environment during normal use by rinsing down the drain and through the evaporation of volatile components.

  • Certain ingredients in cleaning products can present toxicity to aquatic species in waters receiving inadequately treated wastes (note that standard sewage treatment effectively reduces or removes most cleaning product particles). For example, a common surfactant ingredient in cleaners has been shown in laboratory studies to function as an “endocrine disruptor,” causing adverse reproductive effects in wildlife exposed to polluted waters.
  • Many surfactants used in conventional products biodegrade slowly or biodegrade into more toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulative chemicals, threatening aquatic life.
  • Ingredients containing phosphorus or nitrogen can contribute to nutrient-loading in water bodies, leading to adverse effects on water quality (i.e. algae blooms). 
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC) in cleaning products can contribute to smog formation in outdoor air.
Free Mines Waste photo and picture

#1. Polluting Our Water & Marine Life

Water pollution from everyday cleaning products happens when you use cleaners with toxic ingredients. Every cleaner that is washed down the drain eventually ends up in wastewater treatment facilities, and then into rivers, lakes, and oceans where it causes environmental harm to sea life by polluting the water. 

  • Wastewater treatment systems are designed to break down chemicals before entering the environment but not everything is removed.
  • Meaning that many chemicals wind up in your fresh and saltwater ecosystems where they are extremely dangerous to animals, plants, and ultimately, to your drinking water and health.
  • Even if not connected to a city’s water system and you’ve got well water and a septic system, some ingredients in cleaning products can kill the bacteria in your septic tank and ultimately poison the surrounding waterways with wastewater full of chemicals and toxins.

Water Pollution Proof

  • The United States Geological Survey continues to find traces of detergent and disinfectants in almost 70% of our streams across the USA.
  • The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Tap Water Database program is extensive and proves just how much contamination in our drinking water.
    • Over 20 million water records.
    • 50,000 water samples from across the USA. 
    • Found more than 250 chemicals in America’s drinking water. 
    • 80% of the water systems in America have been found with contaminants linked to cancer.

Ingredients In Cleaning Products That Are Environmentally Dangerous

Try to familiarize yourself with some of these ingredient names or what to look for as labels on cleaning products. And stay away from them as an eco-friendly action.

  1. If a cleaning product is labeled “antibacterial” check the ingredients.
  2. If a cleaning says it kills bacteria, fungi, and mildew, then it will also kill algae, which are a very important element in our water ecosystems and in the food chain.
  • 1,4-Dioxane: used to make sodium Laureth sulfate (the sudsy component in cleaning products) does not readily biodegrade in water or soil which means that it can persist in the environment; also a confirmed animal carcinogen.
  • Methylisothiazolinone (MI): found in many cleaning products including ‘healthier’ or ‘greener’ alternatives. The EPA states MI is highly toxic to freshwater and marine organisms.
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs): used to loosen the dirt and grease from surfaces; has been detected in water, sediment, mussel, and fish; highly toxic to aquatic life, causing heavy damage to fish gills.
  • Phosphates: found in floor and other household cleaners; highly toxic and lethal to fish.
  • Phthalates: common in air fresheners, and laundry products (part of fragrances). Found in all water sources including rainwater. Causes severe reproductive and developmental disruption to aquatic organisms such as bacteria, algae, crustaceans, insects, and even fish. 
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QUATs or QACs): in disinfectants, and fabric softeners; toxic to aquatic organisms such as fish, daphnids, algae, and microorganisms. Also includes the bacteria in wastewater treatment facilities, thus impairing efficacy and degrading drinking water. A chemical that builds up and causes long-lasting harm to ecosystems.
  • Triclosan: linked to cancer, developmental defects, hormone disruptions, and liver toxicity.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): cause excess growth of algae, which results in the spread of bacteria, loss of daylight vital to aquatic ecosystems, as well as a depletion of oxygen levels, killing fish and other animals. Causes algal blooms, which can poison drinking waters or lakes for swimming.

How To Reduce Your Environmental Impact

  1. Ask yourself if a particular cleaning product is really necessary. Or can the project be taken care of with natural ingredients, tools, and some elbow grease? 
  2. Avoid products marked “Danger” “Poison” “Caution” or “Warning”.
  3. Look for products with ingredients that are easily biodegradable and break down quickly in wastewater treatment facilities.
  4. Look for all-natural products, and certified by an independent institution, such as EcoCert (an internationally recognized certification that guarantees environmental respect with strict requirements for products, more stringent than other “green” labels found in North America like Ecologo and GreenSeal, which allow many ingredients that are suspected toxins, carcinogens or hormone disruptors).
  5. Use less; follow directions and reduce the amount of cleaning products ending up in wastewater. 
  6. To make it easier for purchasers to identify greener cleaning products, EPA manages the Safer Choice program, which certifies products that contain safer ingredients for human health and the environment.  Safer Choice-Certified Product Search.
  7. Additionally, EPA has developed a set of Recommendations in several cleaning product categories, that identify credible and effective private sector standards/ecolabels.

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