Down the Drain: Chemicals From Personal Care Products Polluting SF Bay
OAKLAND – Hormone-disrupting chemicals from a wide variety of consumer products are polluting San Francisco Bay, posing risks to marine life and challenges for consumers and utility districts. Tighter regulatory controls on consumer products containing these chemicals are necessary to protect human and environmental health.
Environmental Working Group (EWG), in a year-long effort with East Bay Municipal Utility District’s (EBMUD) technical support, sampled and analyzed wastewater from residential, commercial, and industrial sites that discharge to the EBMUD wastewater treatment plant. Eighteen of 19 samples contained at least one of three unregulated, widely-used hormone disrupting chemicals – phthalates, bisphenol A and triclosan.
EWG’s report, Down the Drain: Sources of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals in San Francisco Bay details the results of this study. The report is now available on EWG’s website, www.ewg.org.
Chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenol A, and triclosan are introduced into everyday products like cosmetics, antibacterial soap, perfumes, food and beverage containers and plastic bottles, with little regulatory oversight. Fish exposed to hormone-disrupting chemicals can develop “intersex” characteristics, such as males with immature eggs in their testes.
“This is the first look at specific sources of hormone-disrupting chemicals that can make their way to the Bay,” said Rebecca Sutton, PhD, an EWG staff scientist. “By tracing these chemicals to particular sources –– we can identify simple pollution prevention strategies for people to take to protect the Bay.”
The report says that today’s sophisticated sewage treatment process can address many pollutants, but trying to keep up with this unregulated tide of chemicals flushed down the drain would translate to ever-higher treatment costs, and still not all of these pollutants would be removed. Researchers believe it’s both wiser and more effective to keep hormone disruptors out of consumer products in the first place. By making informed choices when you buy everyday products, you can reduce the impact of these hormone-disrupting chemicals on fish and wildlife in the Bay.
“Ultimately, we need to fix our system of chemical regulations,” said Sutton. “The law establishing U.S. regulation of chemicals was created over three decades ago, before the scientific evidence on hormone-disrupting chemicals developed.” Chemicals should be tested for their potential to impact the water environment, before they are allowed in the marketplace. In our current regulatory framework, harm must be proven after these chemicals are already in use – often after it’s too late.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
To reduce exposures to phthalates:
- Use nail polish and other beauty products that do not contain dibutyl phthalate (DBP).
- Use personal care products, detergents, cleansers, and other products that do not contain "fragrance" in the ingredient list, which commonly includes the phthalate DEP.
- Avoid products made of PVC or vinyl plastic. A few examples of these products include PVC lawn furniture, vinyl raincoats, PVC pipe and other building materials, vinyl shower curtains, and toys for kids or pets made of PVC.
To reduce exposures to bisphenol A, and to the epoxy resin made from bisphenol A:
- Cut down on canned foods. To keep food from reacting with the metal of the can, a plastic coating made from bisphenol A is commonly applied to the inside of the can.
- Avoid eating or drinking from polycarbonate plastics – used in such products as hard plastic baby bottles, 5 gallon water cooler bottles, hard plastic water bottles, plastic silverware, and Lexan products. Alternatives include bottles and other materials made from glass, stainless steel, or polypropylene.
To reduce exposures to triclosan:
- Avoid unnecessary use of "antibacterial" products. Studies indicate that households that use these products are no healthier than those that use soap and water and other typical cleansing products.
- If you need to use an antimicrobial skin disinfectant, use an alcohol hand rub or rinse product that does not list triclosan or "fragrance" in the ingredients.