Toxic chemicals

Issue

An environmental issue

Skip to:   The threats  •  Facts & case studies  •  Legislation

Toxic chemicals

Threats

The Toxic Chemicals issue.

Thousands of harmful toxic chemicals make their way daily from our sinks, showers and toilets into the sewerage system. Sewerage systems are designed to strip the sewage effluent of harmful pathogens, they are not set up to treat or remove many of these chemicals, which subsequently end up in our water-courses and marine environment.

Some of these chemicals, including parabens, are edocrine disruptors or ‘gender-benders’, and can affect the hormones of aquatic life. A study by the Environment Agency found up to a third of male fish in UK rivers were displaying signs of feminisation. Many of these chemicals also bio-accumulate, with levels becoming more potent in organisms over time or as they move up the food chain. This is an obvious concern as we sit at the top of the food chain. Chemicals with edocrine disrupting qualities are of particular concern for both humans and the environment (Damastra et al., 2002; Jobling et al., 1998), and these chemicals are commonly found in household cosmetic and cleaning products including shampoos, shower gels, face scrubs, paints, detergents and washing up liquids.

There are kinder, safer alternatives widely available, which SAS considers sustainable alternatives for the public to choose. SAS is also calling on the mainstream corporate companies to adopt a precautionary approach and substitute ‘harmful’ chemicals for sustainable alternatives.

Toxic Chemicals Toxic facts

Chemicals that are of particular concern include:

Phthalates

Phthalates

Phthalates which are used in cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, nail polish, and skin moisturisers. They are also used to make plastics more flexible. They can be absorbed through the skin and accumulate in human fat tissue. They are classified as toxic to reproduction and carcinogenic.

Parabens

Parabens

Parabens which are found in shampoos, shower gels and other similar products are endocrine disruptors as they mimic oestrogen.

Organotins

Organotins

Organotins - these were found in various cosmetic products but EU REACH legislation has recently banned many of them either at certain concentrations or completely. They attack the human immune system and cause birth defects.

Legislation

REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of Chemicals) is the 2007 EU legislation that regulates the manufacture, sale or use of certain substances, either on their own or in combination with other substances, which present an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.

Surfers Against Sewage campaigned alongside the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to bring in the REACH legislation.