After cleaning fluids disappear down the drains, they are treated along with sewage and other waste water, then discharged into nearby waterways and into the oceans. While most ingredients in chemical cleaners break down into harmless substances during the treatment process, some do not and end up threatening water quality and wildlife.
Such ingredients include a class of chemicals known as alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs). These are surface active agents that are key to a detergent’s effectiveness. They are added to some laundry detergents, laundry stain removers, disinfectants, and citrus degreasers. When discharged in waste water, these APEs break down into more toxic compounds that do not readily degrade in soil and water. APEs have been shown to mimic the effects of the hormone estrogen, and their presence in water may be having an effect on the reproduction and survival of salmon and other fish. It’s not good news for humans either, as they have also been shown to cause the growth of breast cancer cells*. This is just one of the many cleaning chemical by-products that harm our environment.