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Devastating Impact of Cleaning Chemicals on Water Quality

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Cleaning chemicals, widely used in households and industries, pose significant threats to water systems. These substances, often laden with toxic ingredients, can wreak havoc on aquatic environments and public health when they enter water bodies.

Journey of Cleaning Chemicals to Water Bodies

When cleaning, people rinse surfaces, wash sponges and cloths, and pour the contents of their mop bucket down the drain.  Sometime chemicals are poured directly in such as when cleaning a toilet or drain. When cleaning agents make their way down the drain, they embark on a journey that frequently ends in local water systems. They first go into the sewer and end up in wastewater treatment facilities. Water treatment removes many chemicals, but some persist, allowing harmful substances to slip through. As a result, rivers, lakes, and oceans become repositories for these pollutants.

cleaning inside a toiletHarmful Effects on Aquatic Life

According the the Environmental Protection Agency, “many surfactants used in conventional products biodegrade slowly or biodegrade into more toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulative chemicals, threatening aquatic life.”  Surfactants are a common ingredient found in soaps and detergents. There are many safe, natural varieties (such as those used by Green Team Cleaners), but there are even more synthetic varieties that are toxic.

Watch out for two additional chemicals found in household cleaners: phosphates and nitrogen. Detergents, including those for dishes, laundry, and car washing, commonly contain phosphates. Products for cleaning glass, stainless steel, toilets, drains, and all-purpose cleaners may contain nitrogen. A common form of nitrogen is ammonia.  These chemicals commonly serve as fertilizers to aid plant growth, but they contribute to algal blooms when they enter bodies of water. These blooms deplete oxygen in the water, creating “dead zones” where aquatic life cannot survive. Fish, invertebrates, and plants suffer immensely as their habitats degrade. The presence of these algal blooms also disrupts local ecosystems, leading to a decline in biodiversity.

ducks swimming in water with algal bloomsEndocrine Disruptors in Aquatic Environments

Chemicals like triclosan, triclocarban, and alkylphenol ethoxylates persist in the environment and accumulate in aquatic organisms. These substances, used for their antibacterial properties and as surfactants, pose significant risks to aquatic life. These substances can disrupt endocrine systems in wildlife, leading to reproductive and developmental issues. Fish and amphibians, in particular, are vulnerable to these disruptions, which can have cascading effects on the food chain.

triclosan and triclocarbanRisks to Human Health

Human health is not immune to the impacts of these chemicals. Contaminated water can affect drinking water supplies, posing risks to communities. Long-term exposure to low levels of these chemicals may contribute to health problems such as hormone imbalances, reproductive issues, cancer, immunity issues, and developmental disorders in children.

Economic Consequences

In addition to direct impacts, the environmental degradation caused by cleaning chemicals can also have economic consequences. Tourism, fishing, and other industries that rely on clean water and healthy ecosystems suffer when water quality declines.

fishing in a florida riverAnother consequence is the cost for water treatment facilities. Manufacturers use PFAS, a class of thousands of chemicals, for their stain-repellent and waterproofing properties. Created in the 1930s, PFAS aided in the creation of the atomic bomb and became famous as a main ingredient in Teflon pans. According to the Environmental Working Group, PFAS are also found in:

aerosol being sprayed

– Glass and hard surface cleaners
– Fabric, upholstery, and carpet cleaners and treatments
– Waxes and polishes for floors, furniture, cars, and boat vessels
– Dishwashing rinse aids
– Aerosol propellant-based cleaners and air fresheners

Known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS persist and can last for thousands of years. These products create an immense amount of harm so it is crucial to remove them from our water supply.  Unfortunately, they can dissolve in water and according to the EPA, traditional water treatments are unable to remove these chemicals.  The Biden-Harris Administration issued the first-ever national, legally enforceable drinking water standard to protect communities from exposure to these toxic chemical which is a much needed standard that will be very costly to execute.

Solutions for Reducing Harmful Effects

To mitigate these harmful effects, individuals and businesses can adopt more sustainable cleaning practices. Using eco-friendly cleaning products, reducing the use of harmful chemicals, and properly disposing of cleaning agents can make a substantial difference. Public awareness and stricter regulations are also crucial in reducing the contamination of water sources.

vinegar and baking soda for cleaningConclusion

In conclusion, the pervasive use of cleaning chemicals has far-reaching consequences for water quality and aquatic life. By making conscious choices and advocating for better practices and policies, we can protect our water systems from further harm.

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