Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's in the Water You're Drinking?


"What's in the water you're drinking"?   You might jokingly say to someone who's acting particularly giddy.
That's the question one researcher here in Japan has been asking himself  for nearly 50 years.   Like many others, what he has found lately, is not particularly good news.

Most of us realize what we are drinking from our taps is not the same water we were drinking 50 years ago.
We know it is now filled with chemicals and prescription drugs.   These are the sources of contaminates that is found in newborns and in all of us.  It certainly isn't acceptable that babies come into the world already filled with 200 different man made chemicals and more recently, recycled pharmacueticals.    We know through what we drink and eat today, we are exposing future generations to the pollution our generation has created.

The water we drink is so bad it has led to the creation of a multi-billion dollar bottled water industry.  This is another source of  garbage in our oceans, adding to the pollution problem.  50 years ago, the thought that anyone could make money in bottling and selling water was absurd, now many consider it absurd to drink anything but bottled water.  As a result, we have thousands of square kilometers of the ocean covered with plastic bottles.  We have created another major pollution problem.  Many of man's solutions to man's problems are truly idiotic.  

Chemical pollution of our waters does not only effect the human population, it effects our entire life support system, our planet Earth.  The chemicals we dump down the drain on a daily basis is found throughout Earth's water system, and even in trace amounts, effects the populations of nearly all life in our waters.   There has been a serious depletion of large fish in our oceans, once considered an abundant source of food for Earth's growing population.   Marine specialists estimate that in the last 50 years as much as 90% of the large fish have disappeared.  While most point the finger of blame on commercial fishing, one must also take into consideration how chemical pollutants have effected natural mating patterns resulting in fewer offspring and fewer survivors.   It is very likely, this along with commercial fishing, are the biggest contributors to the decline in both fresh water and the seas.  

While the decrease in our food supply is of major concern, even a bigger threat is how this effects the delicate balance of our ocean's ecology.   Does anyone think the ocean can survive without the life found in them?   Does anyone believe the Earth can survive without a healthy ocean?   Of course not.   It is not just global warming that is a threat, it is also the survival of a healthy water system, both our fresh water and our ocean.  If the ocean doesn't survive, mankind will not survive.

In order to give aquatic life a fighting chance to come back, we not only need to seriously limit the over exploitation of commercial fishing companies, we also need to begin cutting back on the release of toxic chemicals into our waterways.   While environmental organizations around the world have found some success in slowing the destructive practices of commercial fishing, there has been virtually no voice in stopping destructive chemicals from entering the ocean.  In fact, year after year the amounts of toxic cleaning chemicals entering our freshwater and the ocean continue to increase.   What can we do?


What is the biggest chemical toxin entering our waterways?   Surfactants - the surfactants found in all our household and personal care products.   Every time you wash clothes, mop down your floors, wash your car, clean your windows, do your dishes, you are releasing surfactants into the environment.   Every time you shave, brush your teeth, shampoo your hair, surfactants are washed down the drain.  

Chemical companies produce about 13 million metric tons of surfactants a year and half of this goes into laundry detergents.

Nearly everyone knows about DDT which was banned for use in the early 1970's.   DDT was bad and it was the right decision for regulators to ban it.   The eco-toxicity for DDT was even worse than surfactants.  However, even at its peak, annual production only reached 80,000 metric tons.   The release of DDT into the environment was puny compared to the release of surfactants through the use of today's laundry detergents.  We are dumping about 6.5 million metric tons of surfactants every year through the practice of washing our clothes.

Surfactants may be less toxic than DDT for water life, barely.   Surfactants are deadlier in the water than arsenic, nearly twice so.  Cleaning product manufacturers have been including this stuff in all their cleaning products for the past 60 years.   It is not a coincidence that in this span of time, the quality of the world's waterways has decreased as use of surfactants grew.  Why isn't this creating more public outrage?   Surfactants have been poisoning our water supplies for the last 60 years and the only people who seem to know this are the producers and major users, who seem disinclined to bring this topic up for discussion. 

Independent, scientific research can be found on the Internet confirming the levels of surfactants found in our waters.   The research also shows the level of surfactants found in nearly all waters around significant human populations are already too high for aquatic life to be sustainable.   It is only in research sponsored by the surfactant makers and its users that continues to insist the use of surfactants in our cleaning products is safe.   The environmental agencies that give their OK, rely heavily on industrial supported data to make their decisions.   Why?  Perhaps the money spent on these papers make these reports appear very formidable and scientific compared to the research put out by independent university and environmental groups or perhaps the regulators feel since the products have been around for such a long time and  sold by such reputable companies, there is really no sense to panic now.  Perhaps the regulators believe these same companies will be able to come out with a "safer" surfactant, something they have not been able to do in over 70 years of operations.  


Well, someone already has.  Its this guy who has researched water for the past 50 years.  He and his small team, realized there was a problem with the surfactants used in cleaning products years ago.   It took his lab about 10 years to come up with a way to get clothes clean without killing fish,  the first and only surfactant-free laundry "detergent"*.   

This man and his company challenged the conventional wisdom in the cleaning products industry.   The accepted axiom is,  "an effective cleaning product can not be made without using a surfactant.   The surfactant is the cleaning agent and a product can not be considered a soap, detergent or cleaner without it."   The industry is wrong and has been wrong for only about the last 4,500 years or so, from when soap was first invented.   "There is more ways than one to kill a bird"*,   and use of surfactants is not the only way to get clothes clean.   There is a way to get clothes clean and save the fish and this person has the product, a product that has been sold here in Japan for the last 5 years or so.  It is time to give this product a try, it is time we make a major move to get surfactants out of our laundry detergents.  Its time we give aquatic life a chance to fight back. 

*The word "detergent" has to be in quotes because many people will say the word "surfactant" and "detergent" are actually the same thing.   In fact, looking at the US EPA's Design for the Environment page, they include the following warning; "By nature, surfactants are often toxic to aquatic organisms because the properties that improve surfactancy also tend to increase toxicity".   If you substitute the word "surfactancy" with "detergency", you will better understand the meaning of this sentence.

"There is more than one way to kill a bird" - For those who know the history of surfactants, you have probably run into a paper presented at the 1970 "Proceedings of the 4th Vertebrate Pest Conference"
Titled, "Surfactants as Blackbird Stressing Agents".   This research discovered that surfactants are pretty good at killing blackbirds.  This should tell you why all insecticides, pesticides and herbicides contain surfactants.  Our everyday, household cleaning products shouldn't.

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