[Pharmwaste] Groups seek ban on cleaning chemicals
dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Thu Jun 7 14:17:25 EDT 2007
Groups seek ban on cleaning chemicals
The products, used in detergents, are linked to gender changes in fish.
By Marla Cone, Times Staff Writer
June 6, 2007
Five environmental groups and a labor union Tuesday petitioned the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency to restrict the use of chemicals that
are in many household detergents and have been linked to gender changes
in fish and other aquatic life.
Led by the Sierra Club, the groups are seeking a ban on nonylphenol and
nonylphenol ethoxylates in consumer and industrial detergents and other
cleaning products. About 400 million pounds of the chemicals are
produced each year in the United States, and much of it is flushed into
sewers that empty into rivers and other waterways.
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act enacted 31 years ago, citizens
have the authority to petition the EPA to regulate individual
substances. However, it is a power that has been rarely invoked.
Federal documents show that eight other petitions have been filed in the
last dozen years. The EPA denied the requests. However, the most recent
one led to a lawsuit and an agreement by the EPA and the Consumer
Product Safety Commission to regulate lead in children's jewelry.
The new petition is the first involving an endocrine-disrupting
chemical, a phenomenon discovered by scientists in the early 1990s in
which artificial compounds mimic estrogen or other hormones. The EPA is
developing methods to screen chemicals for hormonal activity but
currently does not check for such risks when setting environmental
Nonylphenol imitates estrogen, and male rainbow trout and other fish
exposed to the chemical in laboratories become part male and part
female, producing female egg proteins, according to EPA documents and
several scientific studies.
"It is clear that the current unrestricted manufacture and release of
nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates poses an unreasonable risk to
the environment," the groups wrote in their petition.
The human effects are unknown. The petition calls for more research into
health effects, particularly on employees of dry cleaners and laundries.
"Tens of thousands of workers may be exposed to these harmful chemicals
each day," said Eric Frumin, director of the Health and Safety Program
at UNITE HERE, a labor union that represents laundry workers and one of
the groups that filed the petition.
Companies that manufacture or use the compounds say they have been used
in cleaning products for more than 50 years. They "are among the most
extensively studied compounds in commerce today," said the Alkylphenols
& Ethoxylates Research Council, which represents the companies. "Few
compounds have the same degree of available test data or have received
the same degree of scientific scrutiny."
One industry analysis found that concentrations of the compounds
exceeded new standards set by the EPA last year in five of 1,255 sampled
The industry group describes nonylphenol as a weak estrogen that is far
less potent than natural estrogens in human sewage. But nonylphenol
ethoxylates - those used in most cleaning products - are not estrogenic,
said Barbara Losey, deputy director of the industry's research council.
Nonylphenol compounds also are used in the manufacture of paper,
textiles, paints, lube oils, tires and other products. In addition to
the ban for detergents, the petition is seeking restrictions on other
uses and labels on all products that contain them.
Although use of the chemicals is unrestricted in the United States, some
large U.S. companies have voluntarily stopped using them, including
Procter & Gamble and Unilever. Wal-Mart last year named nonylphenol
ethoxylates as one of three chemicals that it had asked its suppliers to
Instead of regulations, the EPA is developing a voluntary "Safer
Detergents" program to reward companies that switch to less-toxic
cleaning agents such as alcohol ethoxylates, which are available at
The European Union is in the process of banning many uses and Canada has
set stringent standards.
But legal experts say that the EPA has limited authority to ban
chemicals already in use when the toxics law was enacted in 1976.
Under that law, the agency must prove a chemical poses an "unreasonable
risk" to human health or the environment, and then compare costs and
benefits of potential restrictions and choose "the least burdensome"
The last industrial chemical the EPA banned was asbestos in 1989.
Ban sought on some cleaning chemicals
Altered fish seen in Colo. waterways with runoff
By Katy Human
Denver Post Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 06/06/2007 03:38:01 AM MDT
Environmental, laundry workers and fishermen's groups Tuesday asked for
a federal ban on widely used chemicals in cleaners - saying that when
they slip into streams, the compounds feminize male fish and may
threaten human health.
Nonylphenols - synthetic chemicals found in many household cleaners and
industrial detergents - mimic the hormone estrogen, said Ed Hopkins,
director of the Sierra Club's environmental quality program.
Scientists have found nonylphenols and related compounds in natural
waterways below Denver's and Boulder's wastewater treatment plants.
In both places, they've also found sucker fish with both male and female
organs and other sexual deformities.
"When we find these kinds of responses in the aquatic environment, it's
not a good sign for people, and we need to be very cautious," Hopkins
Hopkins estimated that U.S. companies produce more than 200 million
pounds of nonylphenols every year.
With two other environmental groups, unionized laundry workers and a
Pacific Coast fisherman's group, the Sierra Club asked the federal
Environmental Protection Agency to:
Ban nonylphenols in commercial and industrial detergents
Study the chemicals' effects on people, especially workers exposed to
Require the labeling of products containing nonylphenols
The agency has 90 days to respond to the petition - and can either deny
it or begin developing new rules, EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said.
The EPA has a voluntary program to encourage companies to develop
alternatives to nonylphenols.
Jones also said her agency is doing research on endocrine disrupters - a
class of chemicals that includes nonylphenols.
With about $800,000 in EPA support, University of Colorado
endocrinologist David Norris and colleagues at the U.S. Geological
Survey have been tracking endocrine disrupters in Boulder Creek.
While nonylphenols are present in Boulder Creek, Norris said, they're
outnumbered by natural estrogen compounds and those from birth-control
pills - both excreted by people.
Still, Norris said he hoped the EPA would regulate nonylphenols, which
are already tightly restricted in Europe and Canada.
Staff writer Katy Human can be reached at 303-954-1910 or
khuman at denverpost.com.
Sierra Club seeks ban on chemical linked to intersex fish
DAVID DISHNEAU / Associated Press
The Sierra Club asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to
ban industrial and household detergents containing nonylphenol
ethoxylates, or NPEs, a class of toxic chemical compounds that can cause
male fish to develop certain female characteristics.
The petition, also signed by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's
Associations and the textile-and-hotel-workers union UNITE HERE, also
seeks to require labeling on all products containing NPEs and to bar
their use in areas where wastewater treatment plants aren't equipped to
If the effort succeeds, it would be the first U.S. restriction on a
substance principally because it is an endocrine disruptor, said Ed
Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club's environmental quality program.
Endocrine disruptors mimic or antagonize natural hormones and are
thought to be responsible for some reproductive problems in both women
and men, and for increases in the frequency of certain cancers,
according to an EPA fact sheet.
Scientists have documented in the last decade so-called intersex fish in
U.S. waters, including the southern Great Lakes, the Potomac River
watershed and the Southern California coast. The reasons for the problem
aren't fully known, but researchers suspect it is rooted in wastewater
and farm runoff polluted with chemicals that are estrogenic, meaning
they stimulate estrogen production.
NPEs are more tightly restricted in Canada and Europe than in the United
States, which issued water-quality limits for the key ingredient,
nonylphenol, or NP, in December 2005. Detergent manufacturers Procter &
Gamble and Unilever have voluntarily substituted other chemicals in
their products, and Wal-Mart is seeking to phase NPEs out of its stores
by rewarding companies that find alternatives.
"We think it's time for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take
action and restrict this chemical," Hopkins said.
The Alkylphenols & Ethoxylates Research Council, a Washington-based
trade group for major producers of nonylphenol and NPEs, said the
compounds have been thoroughly reviewed.
"NP, NPE and their biodegradation intermediates are among the most
extensively studied compounds in commerce today," Robert Fensterheim,
the trade group's executive director, said in an e-mailed response to
questions from The Associated Press. "Few compounds have the same degree
of test data and have received the same degree of scrutiny." But Hopkins
said the EPA didn't consider NPEs' endocrine-disrupting effects in
setting water-quality limits because the 1985 guidelines for setting
toxicity criteria don't recognize endocrine-disruptor research.
"They set criteria based on conventional toxicity tests," Hopkins said.
"But those criteria don't take into account the fact that NP and NPEs
affect fish more subtly at far lower levels."
The petition states that the known effects of NP and NPEs on aquatic
life include elevated levels of an egg-yolk ingredient in male rainbow,
trout, flounder, Atlantic salmon and eelpouts, a family of eel-like
fish; reduced salmon abundance; estrogenic effects in amphibians, and
toxicity to marine oysters.
The petition seeks more study of NPEs, including testing for health
effects on industrial laundry workers.
The EPA is developing a program, the Safer Detergents Stewardship
Initiative, that would recognize companies that voluntarily commit to
use safer substitutes for NPEs.
Wastewater treatment plants remove 90 percent to 95 percent of primary
compounds, according to an industry study cited in the petition. But the
petition states that even if all of the approximately 400 million pounds
of NP and NPEs produced each year received 95 percent treatment, more
than 10 million pounds of the chemicals would be released into the
environment each year.
The petition also is signed by the Environmental Law & Policy Center,
the Washington Toxics Coalition and Physicians for Social
On the Net:
Sierra Club: http://www.sierraclub.org
Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov
Alkylphenols & Ethoxylates Research Council: http://www.aperc.org
Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email: dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address: www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
Mail: P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218 (NEW!)
Location: 629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219
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