Five environmental groups, joined by a labor union, have appealed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide health and safety protection from the endocrine-disrupting chemicals, nonyplphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). They have sought a ban on the use of these chemicals in industrial detergents other cleaning products as safer alternatives are available.
"The current unrestricted manufacture and release of nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates poses an unreasonable risk to the environment," the groups wrote in their petition.
Nonylphenol compounds also are used in the manufacture of paper, textiles, paints, lube oils, tires and other products. The petition is also seeking restrictions on other uses and labels on all products that contain these chemicals.
Petitioners include the Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center, UNITE HERE, Washington Toxics Coalition, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
It is estimated that about 400 million pounds of the chemicals are annually produced and much of it, when flushed through sewers, goes to contaminate the rivers and other waterways.
Industry analysis found that, in five of 1,255 waterways sampled, concentration of the compounds exceeded the revised standards set by the EPA last year. Yet, the government has failed to analyze the potential health effects on the general public or workers who handle these products regularly.
According to several scientific studies and documents available at EPA, Nonylphenol imitates estrogen, and varieties of male fishes exposed to this chemical become part male and part female, producing female egg proteins. The after-effects on humans are however still unknown.
Even at low levels, NPEs are known to cause male fish to produce eggs, disrupt normal male-to-female sex ratios and seriously endanger fish reproduction. The after-effects on humans are however still unknown.
"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," said Ed Hopkins, Director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program.
The petition claimed the unrestricted manufacture and release of NPEs poses serious threat to the environment and sought more research into its adverse health effects particularly of dry cleaners, launderers and other washer-men.
Some large U.S. companies including Procter & Gamble and Unilever have voluntarily stopped using them. Last year, Wal-Mart named nonylphenol ethoxylates as one of the chemicals; it is planning to phase out.
But legal experts state that the EPA has limited authority to ban chemicals already in use when the toxics law came into force in 1976.