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. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Congratulations to Earth Justice and All

An Important Breakthrough - Cleaning Product Manufacturers Are Forced to Reveal Ingredients

You are perhaps not aware that a ruling was made in the lawsuit that was filed at the beginning of 2009. Earth Justice, a non-profit law firm, filed a suit in the State of New York on the behalf of the Sierra Club, Women's Voice For the Earth, American  Lung Association in New York, Riverkeep, and Environmental Advocates of New York to get 4 major cleaning product manufacturers to provide ingredient list for the products they sell.  New York is the only state having such a law.  Until recently, very few companies provided any product lists of any meaning.  

Since nothing concerning the progress of the lawsuit could be found over the Internet, I contacted Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the Women's Voices for the Earth to see if an update was available.   All three e-mailed back and all three had different responses.   The person who wrote back from the Sierra club was not aware of the lawsuit I had referred to, Earthjustice said they had a "wonderful victory" and Women's Voices for the Earth stated, "The lawsuit was dismissed for lack of standing, but the NY Department of Environmental Conservation has decided to implement the law."

Looking over the press release put out by Earthjustice, the following is what seemed to have happened.  A hearing was held in September and the judge presiding over the case came out with a very tentative decision.   He basically said he couldn't judge on the merits of the lawsuit and suggested the defendants (cleaning products producers) had to get together with the plaintiffs (environmental and health groups) and work out a compromise.   Which, at the time didn't seem like much of a victory at all.   The meeting between the plaintiffs and defendants was held in October.   Sometime during this period, health and environmental groups got New York's Department of Environmental Conservation to enforce disclosure for products offered in New York.   As a result, for the first time on P&G's home page, we can now find relatively complete ingredient lists for products such as Tide detergent.   I found them this morning and took a quick look.  Did you know Tide comes in 48 different formulations?  
While I haven't checked yet, I'm sure the other 3 defendants, Colgate-Palmolive, Church and Dwight,  and Reckitt-Benckiser have or will soon have ingredient information posted as well.  Either that or they'll have to stop selling their products in New York.

The Significance of the Ruling, As I See It

Perhaps now that companies are declaring which surfactant they actually employ in detergent formulas, environmental groups and consumers can check these ingredients more carefully and begin to express concerns in a louder and more united voice.    Since surfactants represent the biggest eco-toxin produced in the largest amount, environmental groups and consumers have to rally on getting the detergent makers to stop including this chemical compound in their formulation.    Detergent companies know how to do this, they are just not willing to do so. 
Environmental groups should come together and concentrate their efforts on eliminating the use of the three biggest surfactants, LAS, AE and AS in one single product - laundry detergent, and  not allow the use of any other type of surfactant until detergent makers can clearly demonstrate these substitutes are truly safe (which is impossible).  For any proposed substitute ingredient(s), they must be required to demonstrate its safety for both aquatic life and human health.   
Currently, most consumers and environmental groups are using a shotgun approach in attacking a myriad of different cleaning products and a myriad of dangerous substances like "artificial fragrances", phthalates", "endocrine disruptors", "bleaches" and so on.   A less complicated and easier way would be to start with the biggest pollution threat and work your way down the list.  As emphasized many times before in this blog, surfactants are the biggest eco-toxins by far, produced in much larger quantities than any other single pollutant and dumped in  unsustainable huge amounts into our waters.    Start with the one ingredient  no cleaning product company wants to talk about, start with surfactants. 
If we can get the detergent manufacturers to stop using surfactants, producers of other cleaning and personal care products will have to follow the lead and, they will begin to spend R&D on truly safer formulations because they will understand that consumers finally understand and can't be fooled any longer.    Remember what our grandparents always taught us?  "You can fool some of the people all the time...." You remember the rest.   Let's prove this saying is still true.   After 60 years of fooling us all, it is time detergent producers are made to tell us the truth.  It is time for the environmental groups to come together and focus first on the chemical compound that has done the most damage to our health and the environment.  It is time to get rid of surfactants in our household laundry detergents. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

World Heath Organization (WHO) and Report on Surfactants

In 1996, the World Health Organization published a report on effects of surfactants on health and the environment.    It is important to go over this 14 year-old document because our waters are in much worse shape today.  

The report was compiled by over 20 experts from both the public and private sectors.  Here's a summary of what was found concerning LAS and eco-toxicity.

Amounts of Surfactants Found In Various Water Bodies

Wastewater                         1-10        mg/L
Bio Treated Effluents            0.05 - 0.1 mg/L
Perc.Filter Effluents              0.05 - 0.6 mg/L
effluents below WWTP        0.005 - 0.05 mg/L
Downstream                        0.01   mg/L
River Sediment                    1-10  mg/L
Highly Polluted Sed.             <100 mg/L
Estuarine Waters                  0.001 - 0.01 mg/L
Offshore Marine                  0.001 - 0.002 mg/L

Most Toxic LC50 Levels Reported for Several Fish Species

Brown Trout                               0.1 mg/L                                                
Rainbow Trout                            0.36 mg/L
Goldfish                                      8.5  mg/L
Bluegill                                        0.72 mg/L
Fathead Minnows                        0.4  mg/L
Ayu                                            0.53 mg/L
Flounder                                  < 1.0 mg/L
Mosbled sole (newly hatched)     0.05 - 0.1 mg/L
Olive Flounder (5 days old)        <0.1 mg/L

These are just a few of the fish that have been studied, the report lists findings for many other species as well.   In both the effluent and in river sediment samplings, the levels found hold serious consequences for several of the species, namely brown trout, rainbow trout, sole and flounder exposed in waterways containing the amounts indicated.   At least 50% of the population would die within either 48 or 96 hours depending on which parameter was chosen.    Fish died of suffocation as the LAS spread over their gills, not allowing enough oxygen through. 

These findings of extremely high levels of surfactants in river sediment has been reported in other research as well.  Only in the past few years, has this become a topic of concern, mainly in Europe.   While most surfactants including LAS will biodegrade in aerobic conditions,  they will either biodegrade very slowly or not at all in anaerobic states, such as in the mud of river banks or bottoms.    During times of heavy rains or storms, river sediment is often mixed back into the water, potentially exposing any aquatic life to large amounts of this extremely toxic substance.  Unexplained fish kills occur in both fresh water and ocean shores and often happens after a rain storm.   The reason for the fish kill is usually said to be unknown or explained as a sudden depletion of oxygen in the water or exposure to an unidentified pollutant.   The people who are put in charge of investigating fish kills surely take sediment readings, right?  Or do they?

While the WHO report summary indicated maximum levels of LAS at <100 mg/L,  glancing at the list provided in the report, a couple of locations showed levels as high as 300mg/L.  The WHO report also stated that LAS is considered to be in a "steady state" mode in the environment, with no LAS accumulations.   This is baffling. If effluent readings indicated the amount of LAS was less than 1 mg/L, how could levels of 300 times this amount have been found in sediment if it wasn't accumulating?

Even The Makers and Users Admit Surfactants Are Extremely Eco-Toxic

The data in the WHO report can be found in industrial supported studies as well.  Proponents of surfactant use,(surfactant producers, detergent makers,  soap and detergent associations and research groups such as HERA) never deny surfactants are extremely eco-toxic.   They always print the same eco-toxic numbers, they just never explain it.     Nevertheless, these proponents will say surfactants are safe and consistently use the following three arguments:
       1.  Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) takes out 95-99% of all surfactants
       2.  LAS and other commonly used surfactants quickly biodegrade
       3.  The trace amounts of LAS found in waterways do not effect aquatic life

The above argument by the proponents and the overwhelming consensus that surfactants are indispensable in the formulation of an effective laundry detergent, has been enough to persuade regulators not to ban its use, at least up until now.

What Surfactant Support Research Never Mention

Pro-surfactant use reports rarely, if ever mention that perhaps outside of the most advanced industrial zones, Europe, US,  and a few Asian countries, most countries don't have that many advanced wastewater treatment plants.  Brazil for example estimates that 90% of household wastewater does not go through wastewater treatment systems at all.  And, as P&G points out, 60% of Indian housewives still do their laundry by hand, presumably much of this directly in rivers. 

In addition, the reports never tells us that wastewater treatment plants can not handle all the water when it rains.  According to the European Chemical Agency, about 20% of wastewater never makes it to these plants.   This is likely true in other countries as well. 

The third point is how many waste water treatment plants actually operate at full efficiency?   Considering all of this, does the 95-99% removal of LAS and surfactants at WWTP's really present the correct picture of the amounts of surfactants that get into our waterways?

As for "quickly biodegrades", this is another point that must be questioned.  Proponents of surfactants always say this, yet independent field studies often finds this is not true.  In the best of conditions, LAS appears to undergo primary degradations (where the surfactant loses its main "surfactancy" characteristics) in three or four days.   In worse cases (winter cold water conditions), LAS appears not to biodegrade at all. 
The main issue however is, surfactants are released into our waterways on a daily basis therefore the fish are exposed to constant, critical chronic doses.   While these doses may not be enough to kill the fish immediately, research shows exposure to LAS in quanitites much less than LC50 levels, do and are effecting fish.   Gill damage is found, they swim more slowly and eradically and they become less active in mating, thus potentially lessening the number of offspring and population of the specie.  

The only reason surfactants have not been banned by regulatory agencies is the strong lobbying done by the industry and explanations that surfactants are the only way to make an effective cleaning product.

Someone once pointed out whenever an industry is required by government authorities to make a change, the industries always go throught the same act:  First,  they argue that the technology needed to make the change doesn't exist, second that the money required to make the change will bankrupt them, and lastly, they make the change.

If we are to have any chance of getting our fresh water and oceans back to a sustainable state, the change must start by banning the use of surfactants in laundry detergent.  There is a much safer, much more sustainable formula in existence, the technology, knowhow, low cost and availability of resources already proven by a small but successful business in Japan.   The detergent companies do not have to lose any money, except perhaps that which they've put into plants to produce detergent surfactants.    By banning surfactants for use in detergent formulations, we can decrease surfactant use around the world by nearly half, and it will send a clear message to other producers of surfactant-based cleaning products that they too will have to clean up their act.   If there is anyone out there who cares enough, please at least talk with your retailers and let them know.  Its clear that household and personal care product producers will not do anything unless a large number of consumers begin to demand this change.