The use of soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, detergents and other personal and household cleaning products generates discharges of chemicals into the environment through grey water. These chemicals found in untreated grey contain substances are potentially harmful to the physiology of humans, plants and animals. For this reason, reusing untreated grey water is discouraged.

The Harmful Effects of Triclosan

One of the chemicals found in untreated grey water is triclosan. It is an antimicrobial agent used in soaps and detergents to kill fungi and bacteria. Triclosan was first introduced in the 1970s to prevent bacteria from spreading in healthcare facilities.

Triclosan became available in the consumer market in the 1990s in hand soaps and body washes, often marketed with claims like, ‘get rid of 99.9% of bacteria!’ The idea of being germ-free impressed many shoppers, which led to the demand for cleaning products containing triclosan.

Decades later, studies found that triclosan had harmful effects on human health and the environment. Water sources are susceptible to contamination every time a cleaning product containing triclosan goes down the drain and enters the water system.

One study presented in the 2016 meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in France revealed that untreated grey water containing triclosan greatly contributes to the contamination of wastewater that is sent to the environment. Surprisingly, the study also found that deposits of triclosan can be found on the skin even after washing away the products from the body, which makes humans agents of triclosan contamination.

Triclosan also has devastating effects on aquatic life, specifically on the physiology of sea creatures. There is growing evidence proving that triclosan can disrupt the biological processes of sea animals and even cause mutations. In 2016, researchers from Oregon State University studied the effects of triclosan exposure on the physiology of zebrafish. The study found that triclosan exposure caused dramatic changes, specifically digestive instability and chemical imbalance on adult zebrafish, while zebrafish during the early life stages experienced stunted growth.

The Importance of Treating Grey Water

Before reusing grey water for non-potable applications, it must pass through a treatment process. Treating grey water prevents it from mixing and emulsifying with black water, which has higher toxicity levels.

Additionally, the treatment process takes grey water on a series of natural settling and filtration systems that reduce scum and solids, which can serve as deposits of triclosan and other harmful substances.

Finally, grey water treatment diverts untreated grey water from going straight to the environment. With all of these benefits together, you reduce the risk of water contamination that can pollute our water sources and threaten aquatic life.

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