Report identifies pollution route from household to Sound

Certain plastic compounds, commonly found in household products, break down over time, releasing chemicals that wind up in house dust, according to a new study conducted for the Washington Toxics Coalition and People for Puget Sound.

The study examined one class of chemicals, called phthalates, which are believed to cause reproductive problems — though at higher concentrations than normally found in a house.

But the study also found that the phthalates were making their way onto clothing, into the laundry wash water and ultimately into Puget Sound sediments, where other studies show that these chemicals seem to be increasing over time.

This new study raises questions that are not trivial and demand further investigation and public education: Is the dust-sewer route for phthalates more predominant than the air-stormwater route? (See 2006-07 discussion.) Could these chemicals be causing unidentified health effects in our homes? What will be their effects on specific marine and freshwater environments as they continue to accumulate faster than they break down? Do the breakdown products themselves create concerns? And what other chemicals in our homes might be taking this dust-sewer route into Puget Sound?

Last week in “Water Ways,” we discussed how Elliott Bay was growing cleaner by many standards, but at least one phthalate compound was building up in the sediments. We’ll be discussing phthalates in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay and Bremerton’s Sinclair and Dyes inlets as new data becomes available.

Folks who released the report today said they hoped it would spur government agencies into action. According to a news release, the state should take these actions:

  • Enact legislation to ensure only the safest chemicals are used in products.
  • Take action to phase out the use of chemicals posing the greatest threat to Puget Sound’s health.
  • Help industry switch to safer alternatives and away from chemicals known to be harmful to Puget Sound.
  • Require companies to disclose what chemicals they are using to manufacture products.
  • Fully fund Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda items that prevent toxic chemical pollution.

Erika Schreder, staff scientist for the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the report, offered these comments:

“Most people would never think their shower curtains could pollute Puget Sound, but this study shows that chemicals in the products on our homes can actually make their way to the Sound. The laws in place today allow chemicals that we know are harmful to go into products. As a result, our health suffers and so does the health of Puget Sound.”

Heather Trim, Urban Bays and Toxics Program manager for People For Puget Sound, had this to say:

“The state spends millions of dollars each year cleaning up pollution in Puget Sound, only to have the same sites polluted again. Eliminating chemicals toxic to the Sound at their source, including consumer products, is the only way to get off the toxic treadmill permanently.”

For information about the findings, read the report’s Executive Summary (PDF 1.8 mb) or the full document, “Puget Sound Down the Drain” (PDF 2.8 mb).

One could get lost in studies about the toxicity of phthalates, but a good overview can be found in the 2007 report by the “Sediment Phthalates Work Group” (PDF 5.2 mb), an interagency task force of local, state and federal agencies in Washington state.

Also check out “Spotlight on Phthalates” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the links listed in the document.

Notable news reports of today’s announcement:

John Stang for
Sally Deneen for the Seattle PostGlobe
Gary Chittim for King 5 News

2 thoughts on “Report identifies pollution route from household to Sound

  1. Wow..more discussion….fascinating.

    The Environmental Working Group has been discussing phthalates since 1998, when bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate was found in Beauty Secrets, found that dibutyl phthalate was present in the bodies of every single person tested for industrial pollutants.

    Taken from their website, you can see these compounds have a history of research:

    “Several phthalate compounds have caused reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals, and some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.”

    I hope the work the WTC has done does not re-invent the wheel, but instead supports the efforts of the EWG to bring to public light the true nature of these chemical compounds, and FINALLY bring Congress to push for ACTION NOT DISCUSSION.

  2. Some people won’t be satisfied until we’re all back in caves. Of course, they would object to the sediments produced by cave construction…

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