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Many are unaware of the fact, but cosmetics represent a big polluter on our water supply. The amazing thing is — how is it possible that a product which is marketed as so harmless to your skin, can be so harmful to the environment? The reason lies in their high concentration of chemical substances:
Alkylphenol, found in detergents and in the espermicida nonoxynol-9 lubricant.
Bisphenol, used in the manufacture of dental polymeros.
Surfactants are the basic component of most shampoos. They are responsible for cleaning the hair. The most common surfactants used by laboratories are the Lauril, or lauretil, sodium sulfate, and a variety with smoother sodium for children.
Phthalates are used in soaps, shampoos, creams for hands, nail enamels, cosmetics and perfumes.
Parabens are used as a preservative.
Synthetic musks are similar to phthalates products but also exist in food and fragrances.
Most of these analyzed substances are persistent, remaining in the environment in such quantities that they are detected continuously. They are also bioaccumulative. Sunscreen agents have for example been found in lake fish at concentrations of over 5,000 times higher than in the water itself. They also accumulate in our own organism.
For instance, phthalates, a family of some 120 chemicals, are linked to reproductive problems in men and wildlife, while parabens, a preservative, ia a suspected link to breast cancer. A report conducted by the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in 2007 revealed that chemicals from cosmetics could be broken down over time and recombined into a harmful brew in our water supplies.
The report says synthetic chemicals in shampoos, perfumes, medicines and other healthcare products which are washed down the drain seep through the filters at water purification plants. Though concentrations of such chemicals in drinking water are probably too low to be harmful as of now, the effects of their breakdown is poorly understood, says Jeff Hardy of the RSC.
“We do not know if the breakdown products affect the health of people or aquatic animals.” The “cocktail effect” may also make these chemicals more harmful, he adds. Another investigation lead by ANR French National Research Agency in April 2011 discovered that commercialised sunscreens release colloidal residues containing TiO2 into an aquatic environment.
These results raise the issue of potential (eco) toxicity of these residues to aquatic organisms, particularly in fresh water where a stable and consequently bio-accessible dispersion of nanoparticles was generated. This underlines the need for a complete nanotechnological risk assessment to evaluate the potential fate and indirect exposure of complex nanocomposite-based products — not only during their manufacturing or use, but also throughout the entire eco system.
To deal with this problem School of Chemical Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, Greece has proposed the use of vegetation and gravel mesh, called reed beds, on the tertiary treatment of waste water from the cosmetics industry.
This method is quite effective because it tends to be composed of highly engineered systems with a well-defined gravel matrix structure akin to a trickling filter. They are able to nitrify compounds. Next time you use cosmetics, consider that you may be polluting. So best practise responsible consumption.