We're all aware of the health risks associated with dumping antibiotics into our water systems, but did you know that flushing toothpaste, soap or detergent down a drain could produce a similar effect? Each time you use one of those products you may be sending loads of hormone-disrupting chemicals into the environment, potentially harming the reproductive functions of fish, frogs and, in some cases, even humans, according to a study jointly conducted by the Environmental Working Group and the East Bay Municipal Utility District.
The two organizations are advising the public to be more careful about the products they use and not to rely on wastewater treatment plans to keep our water systems chemical-free. "With new detection technology, there are so many new chemicals that are showing up in wastewater. If we continue trying to upgrade (wastewater plants), we'd be spending billions and billions of dollars a year," said Bill Walker of EWG. "It just makes sense to go back to the source."While it didn't specifically document the health effects of fish and wildlife, the study scrutinized three chemicals often found in wastewater discharges from several sources, including homes, industrial facilities and medical centers. A similar study done in 2002 showed that out of 139 streams, close to 80% were contaminated.
A major concern is the high cost and complexity inherent in upgrading current treatment plants: advanced technologies such as reverse osmosis can cost as much as $100 million. And though we primarily think of industrial chemicals as the main culprits here, other products, such as plastic bottles and lawn chairs, may be also contributing to this problem: these items often leach toxic chemicals when they're rinsed or soaked by rainwater during a storm.
As Walker explains, you can never be too careful with the products you use: "Almost any contact you have with water, you have the potential for the substance to leach out and drain away."
Image courtesy of ToastyKen