Rather than just give you my thoughts and opinions, it might be more convincing if I could begin gathering the testimony of other concerned people, organizations and companies. I'll start with the two below.
Excerpted From: http://lenntech.com/aquatic/detergents.htm
"Detergents are very widely used in both industrial and domestic premises like soaps and detergents to wash vehicles. The major entry point into water is via sewage works into surface water. They are also used in pesticide formulations and for dispersing oil spills at sea. The degradation of alkylphenol polyethoxylates (non-ionic) can lead to the formation of alkylphenols (particularly nonyphenols), which act as endocrine disruptors.
What occurs if detergents show up in fresh waters?
Detergents can have poisonous effects in all types of aquatic life if they are present in sufficient quantities, and this includes the biodegradable detergents. All detergents destroy the external mucus layers that protect the fish from bacteria and parasites, plus they can cause severe damage to the gills. Most fish will die when detergent concentrations approach 15 parts per million. * Detergent concentrations as low as 5ppm will kill fish eggs. Surfactant detergents are implicated in decreasing the breeding ability of aquatic organisms.
Detergents also add another problem for aquatic life by lowering the surface tension of the water. Organic chemicals such as pesticides and phenols are then much more easily absorbed by the fish. A detergent concentration of only 2 ppm can cause fish to absorb double the amount of chemicals they would normally absorb, although that concentration itself is not high enough to affect fish directly.
"The potential for acute aquatic toxic effects due to the release of secondary or tertiary sewage effluents containing the breakdown products of laundry detergents may frequently be low. However untreated or primary treated effluents containing detergents may pose a problem. Chronic and/or sub-lethal effects that were not examined in this study may also pose a problem."
* (What happens when you put the manufacturer's recommended dose of detergent into your washer? If your washer uses 10 gallons of water per cycle and your're using 30 grams of detergent, the surfactants in that water would be app. 400 ppm, or over 25 times the lethal dosage for most fish)
Article found on Surfrider Foundation, Europe Blog Page http://blog.surfrider.eu/2010/10/27/non-degraded-surfactants-danger/?lang=en
In 1999, researchers at the National Research Institute (INRA)* confirmed the toxicity of non-degraded surfactants originating from detergents found in sea water. INRA concluded that surfactants are phytotoxic compounds and present a very real environmental problem for which a solution needs to be found in the near future. This was 10 years ago, and a solution is yet to be found.
Zero Response to INRA'S Warning
This warning call was voiced several years ago but since then there hasn't been a sound. This, despite mounting evidence of the adverse impact detergents in the environment have. What products are we talking about here? Simply those from laundry, disinfectants, soaps and shampoos, drain and toilet cleaners, in short all those products used on a a daily basis around the world. Discharged directly into the ocean via the stormwater or wastewater system, these petroleum based products poison plankton, marine fauna and flora, as well as coastal vegetation scoured by ocean spray loaded with surfactants, the compounds responsible for product toxicity. The levels in our environment have reached a degree of toxicity that they present a risk to sources of potable water.
Human and Environmental Impacts
The process of growth inhibition and cellular division affects algae as well as the animals that feed on them. By coming into contact with plankton, the bio-active detergent molecules contaminate the food web. Effects on population health, results from researchers indicate that changes to the endocrine system are affected by surfactants. The seriousness of the effects caused by contaminated ocean spray has become apparent in terrestrial flora, causing irreversible damage widely supported by studies conducted by IFREMER.*
Author: Aude Briau, translated by Dan McDonald
INRA = French National Institute for Agricultural Research (&Environment)
IFREMER = French Research Insititute for Exploration of the Sea