We have long known about carcinogens in common household items such as cosmetics, personal care items and cleansers, and the dangers they represent when we are exposed to them. Now a recent study is reporting that most of us are being exposed to a new cancer causing compound created by household items washed down the drain.
July 13, 2011
Yale researchers have found evidence that common household items such as cleaners, shampoos and detergents, when sent down the drain are creating a chemical cocktail resulting in a new cancer causing agent in water supplies that come from sewage treatment plants. The compound is NDMA , which is a nitrosamine. Nitrosamines are known to be highly carcinogenic and have been especially linked to bladder cancers. The study was conducted by researchers at the Yale Department of Chemical Engineering and was published recently in Environmental Science and Technology.
This far scientists know little about the new nitrosamine compound other than that it is cancer causing. Though they are not sure exactly how NDMA forms, they suspect that the combination of compounds found in common household items leads to the formation of NDMA when water is chlorinated.
According to researchers William Mitch and colleagues, scientists have known that NDMA and other nitrosamines can form in small amounts when water and wastewater are disinfected with chlorine. Previous studies with cosmetics have found that substances called quatermary amines, which are also ingredients in household cleaning agents, may play a role in the formation of nitrosamines. Quatermary amine monomers are widely used in antibacterial soaps and mouthwashes, while polymers are used in shampoos, detergents and fabric softeners.
In the study, the researchers collected treated waste water from waste water treatment facilities in three Connecticut cities. They examined the effects of adding common household cleansers, shampoos and detergents.
Their laboratory research showed that when mixed with chloramine, household cleaning products formed NDMA. The researchers report noted that sewage treatment plants may remove some of quatermary amines from NDMA. However, quatermary amines are used in such large quantities it is believed that significant amounts still persist and have a potentially harmful effect in the water treated at sewage treatment plants.
Notably, the same group of researchers previously found high levels of nitrosamine disinfection byproducts in swimming pools, hot tubs and aquariums that had been disinfected with chlorine. The highest nitrosamine detected in chlorinated swimming pools and hot tubs reached levels up to 500-fold greater than the drinking water concentration of nitrosamines associated with a one in a million lifetime cancer risk.