Our detergents have a hazardous chemical in them: Study

It calls for an immediate stop on the use of the chemical, nonylphenol

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Friday 20 September 2019

The detergents that we are using may have a harmful chemical called Nonylphenol (NP) which is banned in several countries or is being phased out owing to its harmful effects on humans and aquatic organisms. 

In a study conducted by New Delhi-based non-profit Toxics Link, twelve detergent samples were analysed. All of the analysed samples detected Nonylphenol in the concentration which varied between 0.82 and 11.92 weight per cent age. Others had concentration of 2.06, 11.5, 4.29, 1.15, 0.82, 0.93, 1.43, 0.25, 0.91, 1.04 and 1.31 by weight per cent age.

The concentration in the detergent samples was found to be very high in products of international corporations, while ironically, they have declared their products to be nonylphenol free in other countries. This study, thus indicate that while they have one parameter for other countries, they have different for India. 

“NP is a persistent, toxic, bio-accumulative chemical which acts as a hormone disruptor and can be responsible for a number of human health effects,” the study said. Many studies earlier have confirmed the human health impacts of Nonylphenol, including the fact that it may be carcinogenic, 

Besides, its exposure through water, soil and food crops may result in a burning sensation, cough, laboured breathing, sore throat, unconsciousness, skin irritation and burns. Upon ingestion, it may cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea and sore throat. It is also toxic for aquatic animals. 

Nonylphenol has amphiphilic properties and is substantially used as a surfactant in the textile industry. Therefore, Nonylphenol is being reportedly found in garments produced all over the globe, the researchers say in the study. 

As part of the research, water samples were also collected from two different locations of four different rivers (point one and point two of each of the four rivers) to understand the impact of anthropogenic activities on Nonylphenol concentration.

 Point one of the river was chosen as a point
before and point two as the point after the anthropogenic activity (washing of clothes, industrial discharge, etc). 

The study found that the more the anthropogenic activities, more the nonylphenol concentration at the second point. In the Tapti river, there was an increase in NP concentration of 2.5 ppm between the two points.

The rivers Krishna and Ganga depicted similar types of results. But a very high difference was observed at the Bandi River, 41.27 ppm of Nonylphenol at the second point which was accounting for an increase of 26.28 ppm from the first point.

 “Such high concentration at second point of the Bandi perhaps attributes to the industrial discharge from the textile industries located near the river. And it is to be noted that Nonylphenol is used extensively in textile industries,” the report said. 

Besides, four other surface water samples were also analysed. Two out of four samples were collected from the Hindon river in Meerut and the Mahanadi river in Odisha. The third sample was from Ambazari lake, Nagpur.

Nonylphenol was observed in all analysed samples. The concentration of Nonylphenol varied between 13.94 ppm and 26.65 ppm. The highest concentration was observed in the Hindon while the lowest concentration was observed in the lake water sample.

The Bureau of Industry Standards (BIS) has set the standard of phenolic compounds for drinking water (0.001 mg/L) and surface water (5.0 mg/L). However, unlike other countries, India does not have specific standards for Nonylphenol in drinking water and surface water.

In the Toxics Link study, the concentration of Nonylphenol was found to be as much as eight times more than the prescribed BIS standard for phenolic compounds and over 100 times as compared to the US EPA safety standard for water quality criteria.             

As a solution, to begin with, the study suggests that the use of nonylphenol in detergents must be banned as it is a major source of environmental contamination. Also, there is no data at present as to how much this chemical is being used in different sectors in the country, so we need to have an inventory.

The report also recommends that substantial studies on the presence of nonylphenol in water bodies of India must be done so that policy measures can be put in place as to how its use can be minimised.

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