Friday, December 10, 2010

Laundry Detergents and Pesticides - Contain Similarly Eco-Toxic Surfactants

Surfactants Used to Eliminate Pest Bird Populations

If you click on the above, you'll see a research paper from 1970 entitled, Surfactants as Blackbird Stressing Agents.   "Stressing Agent" - what a nondescript way to say, "This stuff kills".  How can cleaning and personal care product makers continue to use surfactants in their formulations when studies like the above have been known by the industry for over 50 years?  

Quoting from the report, some of the highlights:

Ground Tests
1.  "The concept of using surfactants as lethal bird-control agents appears to have originated in late 1958 at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife.  Biologist Dan L. Campbell, then assigned to the Center, noted that wild and penned blackbirds continued to bathe in available open water even during cold weather, and he theorized that exposure of wetting-agent solutions (surfactants) near roosting areas might result in the death of bathing birds through chilling or freezing."

2. "Further testing of Bollengier's technique was conducted in 1966 at a Kentucky roost, but this time surfactant solutions were used and placement of floodlights was changed (Garner, 1966).  About 20,000 birds were killed in 2 nights, with a total of 21.5 minutes of actual spraying during four drives.

3. "A different ground-application technique was used by Carley (1966).  Floodlights were used to attract birds driven through a curtain of vertical strings down which flowed wetting-agent solution.  An estimated 80,000 to 90,000 starlings were killed in three field trials in holly orchards."

Even back when these tests took place,  it was recommended to use surfactants that were the least eco-toxic (least effect on aquatic life) and LES (Linear Alcohol Ethoxylate; still one of the top three detergent surfactants in use today) was deemed appropriate for use by these researchers.  This despite the fact that their own research confirmed 96 hour LC50 levels on rainbow trout, channel catfish, and Bluegill at anywhere between 3-7 ppm.  
Many studies have confirmed surfactant levels in waste water treatment plant (WWTP) influent and river sediment at much higher levels - anywhere from around these levels in influent waste water to around 300mg/l  in sediment below WWTP's.  Unless you are willing to sacrifice the life of 50% of the population, the use of a LC50 standard is woefully inappropriate.  The perilous decline of aquatic populations worldwide would warrant the necessity of setting NOEC10 as maximum allowable eco-toxicity readings (No Observable Effect Concentrations, in 90% of the population).   For many aquatic life species, this would be closer to 0.01 mg/L or less. 

Aerial Spray Tests
4. "The next aircraft used was a B-26 modified for use as an aerial tanker in forest-fire fighting and capable of delivering its 1,000 gallon load over a 1-acre area.  Initial test drops of 2.0 and 3.0 percent detergent solutions were made at the Moody roost.  Although the dense vegetation precluded a systematic sampling of mortality, biologists estimated a kill of several thousand birds from the two drops.  Survival of caged sunfish in the test plot did not differ significantly from that of caged fish in a control area.  The same aircraft then was used in the Arkansas roost where drops of 1.0 and 0.2 percent detergent solutions and applications of water, were made.  The seven detergent drops, three water drops, and post-drop rainfall killed an estimated 78,000 blackbirds and starlings.  Over 20,000 birds were killed as a result of one of the surfactant drops.
In both the Moody and Arkansas tests, residual mortality was noted.  Additional birds died after contact with water through rainfall, bathing, or aerial water applications subsequent to surfactant application."

According to the conclusions reached in this report, the birds died of cold weather and rain after exposure to surfactants, surfactants that in the aerial spraying were used in very low concentrations, as low as 0.2%.   Concentrations of surfactants found in your laundry detergent will likely range somewhere between 25 and 50%, perhaps even higher in some liquid detergent formulas.

Surfactants Are So Dangerous,  Monsanto Won't Use It In Pesticide 

Look at this Monsanto  (click) Material Safety Data Sheet for Rodeo (a top selling herbicide) and under "Ecological Information" you will find the following:
96-hr LC50 Bluegill:  >1,000 mg/l, practically Nontoxic
96-hr LC50 Trout:     >1,000 mg/l, practically Nontoxic
48-hr EC50 Daphna       930 mg/l  practically Nontoxic

The above eco-safely claim is amazing because we thought all pesticides (including all herbicides), contained surfactants and it is impossible to get "safe" eco-toxic numbers like the above with their inclusion.  Well,  the above readings may well be correct since Monsanto (and Dow Agrochemicals) excludes surfactant in this particular formulation, instead they instruct users to add the surfactants themselves. 
The US Department of Agriculture commissioned a study (click) and the first line of this report reads:
"Rodeo is an aqueous solution of the isopropyl amine salt of glyphosate.  The manufacturer recommends use of a nonionic surfactant with all applications of Rodeo to improve efficacy."

It seems even chemical companies attempt to stay clear of the responsibility of spreading toxic surfactants.  They prefer that the user bears this burden.   The report further goes on to say surfactants are 50 times more eco-toxic than glyphosate, the stated "active agent".  How effective are a pesticide's "active agents" absent the use of surfactants?    Other pesticides like the best selling "Round Up" contain about 15% surfactants in their formulation.

Do You Mistakenly Consider "Inert" Chemicals as Safer Than "Active" Chemicals?

The stated purpose of a surfactant's inclusion in a pesticide formulation is to help "disperse" or "spread" the toxic liquid compound over a larger area and are often described as "inert" chemicals in pesticide labeling.   Many of us perhaps presume if a chemical is described as being "inert", it is somehow less harmful than a chemical described as "active".   It seems, however for the formulators of chemical products like pesticides and laundry detergent, this is not the case - surfactants in pesticides are considered "inert" while surfactants in laundry detergents are considered "active" (cleaning) agents.   Whether a chemical is labeled as "inert" or "active" really depends on why a chemist or company included that chemical in the formulation and labeled as such by the chemist or company for "informational" purposes only.   Don't assume a chemical is either safe or harmful by the use of the words "inert" or "active" in chemical categorizations used by manufacturers.  

Whether the surfactant is found in a pesticide or laundry detergent, all surfactants are toxic for human health and the health of Earth's ecology.    Again, surfactants are found in all cleaning products and nearly all personal care products.    Surfactants are everywhere.  For manufacturers of these products, surfactants are a god send, it simplifies the manufacturing process, it boosts profitability.   For users and the environment, surfactants are a nightmare.

For the Sake of Our Future, Tell Your Detergent Maker to Stop Using Surfactants 

We have evidence from as early as 1958 showing researchers knew about the poisonous nature of surfactants and that it was tested on several occasions and found to be lethal for birds.   In concentrations as little as 0.2%, surfactants wiped out significant flocks of them.   The concentration of surfactant(s) found in your current laundry detergents are likely to be anywhere from 25% to over 50%.  
Even chemical company don't want to use it in a pesticide formulation.    How in the world did seemingly reputable companies like P&G, Unilever, Henkel, Seventh Generation and all the rest conclude it was OK as a cleaning agent in our laundry detergents?

It is mind boggling that this information has not been made public, detergent makers have not been held accountable for releasing so much of this toxin into our environment for over such a long period of time.
Don't you think we should have been informed?

Enough is enough and we need to switch to surfactant-free formulations for not only our laundry cleaners but other cleaning products as well.   Personal care product makers should also be made to do the same. 

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