Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Studies Since the 1960's Confirm Surfactants' Toxicity to Marine Life

Detergent Makers Have Known about Dangers of Surfactants for 50 Years -

And they've done nothing.  Is there any other single industry that has done more to harm water ecology than the laundry detergent industry?   World estimates for surfactant production is somewhere around 13 million metric tons a year, half going into laundry detergents.  That's 14 billion pounds of surfactants down the drain, every year.  That's roughly enough to fill 2,650 olympic-sized pools.   Put those pools together and it would stretch a little over 82 miles.   All down the drain or directly into rivers.  Thank goodness we have all those waste water treatment plants working full time to get rid of the stuff.  But wait, if they do such a good job, why is that surfactants can be found in nearly all of the waterways in the world?    Could it be that only the most efficient waste water plants can actually get 99% of the surfactants out is as often claimed by surfactant producers and users, and there really aren't that many efficient plants around?  Or could it be storm water run offs?  Or could it be the millions of people in under-developed countries that still wash directly in the rivers?   I saw that 60% of Indians still wash directly in the rivers.  I saw that in P&G's newest annual report where they feature their new "All Natural" detergent, especially formulated for the Indian market.   According to P&G, Indian housewives love it, it helps them keep their hands nice.   I wonder how the Indian alligators feel about it....we better ask them quick though, I hear most of them have already disappeared.

Toxicity of Linear Alkylate Sulfonate detergent to Larvae of 4 species of freshwater fish - 1975
   by J.M. McKim, J.W. Arthur, T.W. Thorsland   US Environmental Protection Agency, Cogdon, Minn.

This study can be accessed for free via the net and results clearly shows the eco-toxicity levels of LAS on four fresh water fish;  newly born northern pike, white sucker, smallmouth bass and fathead minnow. 
As the scientists who conducted this experiment point out, LAS seems to have the most devastating effect on the larvae of what I would presume to be all fish species.   Therefore, there is little need to spend time and money on researching how LAS effects mature fish because obviously if a pollutant kills off all the young, there wouldn't be any fish to mature anyway.   The study quotes research as early as 1965 that found, not surprisingly, that the young are more vulnerable to poison than the more mature among a species. 

A glance at the graph provided in this research shows that in the range between 2.5mg/L and 6.5mg/L all four larvae species were dead.   The term used is "standing crop", which I suppose sounds softer but nevertheless, the fact is there were no larvae left to study, all gone to the big fish nursery in the sky. 

This graph also shows that the "standing crop" is effected at much smaller levels of LAS as well.   The white sucker "standing crop" in water containing LAS begins to fall in amounts as little as 0.015mg/L (the lowest amount done during this test), minnows at around 0.5mg/L,  northern pike somewhere around 1mg/L, and the smallmouth bass were the hardiest of all, not showing a drastic drop until the level gets close to 6 mg/L, but judging from the chart at 6 mg/L, it looks like all the young bass died, the line drops nearly at a straight vertical.

So why is this worrying?   Well, as pointed out before, it is not that unusual to find waters near waste water treatment plants around 2.0mg/L and above and in the sediment readings of around 100 mg/L are not unusual.  Again, while much research say LAS is safe for marine life, this type of study clearly indicate that it isn't.

How long will it take before researchers find the exact cause of fish, frog and other aquatic mutations that have dramatically increased over the past 10 years?   Is it the pharmaceuticals excreted by humans finding its way back into the water system or industrial waste or is it the ingredients found in our cleaning products?  They've all been suspected.  Surfactants have been known to be deadly for at least the past 50 or longer.  These experts know that surfactants in the water speed up the intake of other pollutants by the creatures and plants in water.   As one company home page pointed out, surfactants in amounts as little as 0.2mg/l will cause fish to take up twice the amount of other pollutants in the water.  Perhaps more frightening is claims that 90% of the big fish in the ocean have disappeared over the last 50 years.  While most put the biggest responsibility for this on massive over exploitation by commercial fishing, doesn't it make you wonder if LAS in such small qualitites can effect the survival rate of baby fish, that pollution may have something to do with this huge catastrophe?   Don't sea bass hatch eggs in estuaries, estuaries that are fed by the rivers that contain LAS?   There are studies that show estuaries also contain alarmingly high rates of this surfactant. 

What will it take to get the regulators responsible for taking care of our environment to actually do something about the harmful surfactants found in laundry detergent formulas?   What will it take to get laundry detergent manufacturers to change their formulations?  If the choice is between paying a little more for less toxic laundry detergents that will at least give fish a better chance to come back, or continue paying today's prices and risk killing all fish, perhaps most consumers will make the right choice.  We're talking at the most paying 30 cents a wash instead of 20 cents, really, is that too expensive a price to give fish, marine life, a chance to come back?   Its up to us to let detergent makers know that we're willing to pay a little more to save our planet, because basically that's what's at stake, right?   Its up the detergent companies to provide us with truly safer products.

No comments:

Post a Comment