A major scientific report examining 250 studies on the effects of flushing surfactants - found in common soaps, shampoos, and detergents - down the drain or toilet suggests the practice poses little risk to the environment. Jim Drury reports.
You might think that by pouring tonnes of soap, shampoo, and detergent down the drain we're hurting the environment - but you'd be wrong. That's according to environmental researcher Hans Sanderson. He's conducted what he says is the largest ever study into the ecological impact of surfactants - compounds found in common cleaning products. SOUNDBITE (English) SENIOR RESEARCHER HANS SANDERSON, UNIVERSITY OF AARHUS, SAYING: "This is mainly due to the fact that they biodegrade very effectively in the waste water treatment plants, so this is also a story of technology development, not only on the side of the chemistry and surfactant industry, but also on the side of the waste water treatment plant that have become more effective at removing these and many other compounds." Sanderson's team at Aarhus University examined 250 scientific studies on common surfactants in the water supply dating back to the 1950s. He says toxic compounds should always be thoroughly investigated before being licensed. But fears of such chemicals causing environmental damage after going through wastewater treatment plants are unfounded. SOUNDBITE (English) SENIOR RESEARCHER HANS SANDERSON, UNIVERSITY OF AARHUS, SAYING: "You could have one compound that is intrinsically less toxic than another one, but the first one is more biodegradable, so the receiving waters will see much lower concentration of that, whereas the other one might be a little bit less toxic but not so biodegradable and therefore the environment will see higher concentrations of that, so if you regulate the chemicals only based on their toxicity, for instance, you might actually be causing greater harm to the environment than if you regulate based on the risk." Sanderson will chair this summer's European Climate Change Adaptation conference of scientists and industry leaders in Copenhagen. But surfactants in water supplies is one issue that won't need to be on the agenda.