WASHINGTON — Laundry workers, commercial fishermen and environmental and public health groups petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday, urging the agency to provide health and safety protections from nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs).
The groups are calling for further health and safety studies, labeling of products containing the chemicals, and banning their use in industrial and consumer detergents since safer alternatives are available.
The European Union has essentially banned the use of NPEs, and Canada set such strict standards for discharging NPEs into water that it ushered in safer alternatives. The groups are calling on the EPA to follow these other countries’ example.
“When fish change gender and develop sexual deformities because of the chemicals we discharge into our streams, it’s a danger signal we should take very seriously,” says Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program.
Even at low levels, NPEs are known to cause male fish to produce eggs, disrupt normal male-to-female sex ratios and harm the ability of fish to reproduce, the Sierra Club says. Cases of such “intersexed” fish have been documented from the Potomac River to the Pacific Coast.
Although research into the human health effects of NPEs is limited, the Sierra Club says, one study shows that exposure of the human placenta to NPE’s byproduct, nonylphenol, may result in early termination of pregnancy and fetal growth defects.
“Tens of thousands of workers may be exposed to these harmful chemicals each day,” says Eric Frumin, director of the Health and Safety Program at UNITE HERE, which considers itself the predominant North American union representing laundry workers. “Despite the overwhelming proof that NPEs are highly toxic, the industrial laundry industry – aided and abetted by its chemical suppliers – continues to promote the use of these hazardous products. It’s time for the federal government to take action, and for industry leaders like Cintas Corp. to voluntarily eliminate these dangerous emissions.”
“There are viable, readily available alternatives that do not contain endocrine disruptors,” says Albert Ettinger of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “Corporations like Procter & Gamble and Unilever do not use NPEs, and Wal-Mart has asked its suppliers to use safer alternatives. There is no reason why the federal government should not act – as other nations have – to protect its citizens from these harmful pollutants.”