The Sierra Club recently got some ink in the Galveston Daily News for its campaign to remove nonyl phenoxy ethoxylate (NPE) from laundry detergents.
NPE can hurt the growth and reproduction of fish and shellfish by upsetting their hormone systems, and can make male fish more female. And NPE doesn’t break down naturally – in fact, sewage processing may only make NPE more toxic. When your dirty laundry water enters the sewage system, NPE can spread into rivers and oceans.
The chemical is banned in Canada and the European Union, but not the United States, and there’s been little pressure on companies or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to target NPE.
But you can take action to remove NPE from your laundry. The most obvious way: If your laundry detergent lists ingredients, you can look for NPE on the box or bottle. You can buy a safer detergent. Some detergents contain NPE alternatives such as alcohol ethoxylate, which a recent Sierra Club report suggests is less toxic and can break down naturally. The report also says that some companies have begun eliminating NPE from their products, including Proctor and Gamble and Cintas Corporation.
FOR MORE DETAILS: You can find the Sierra Club report at http://www.sierraclub.org/toxics/laundry.
This post was written by Professor Alastair Iles is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Iles studies science, technology, and environment, with a focus on how technologies – ranging from chemistry, energy systems, environmental health monitoring, to information technology – affect society and the environment. He received his PhD in Environmental Law and Policy from Harvard University, and previously studied Law at the University of Melbourne, Australia.