Chemical water pollution caused by every day detergents

Updated April 17, 2017

Water pollution by chemicals (such as detergents) is a big concern in the global context. Many laundry detergents contain approximately 35 per cent to 75 per cent phosphate salts. Phosphates can cause a variety of water pollution problems. For example, phosphate tends to inhibit the biodegradation of organic substances. Non-biodegradable substances cannot be eliminated by public or private wastewater treatment. In addition, some phosphate-based detergents can cause eutrophication. Over-enrichment of phosphate can cause the water body to become choked with algae and other plants. Eutrophication deprives the water of available oxygen, causing the death of other organisms.

Detergents--The Main Pollutants

One of the main sources of chemical pollutants is everyday detergents. Specific contaminants leading to water pollution include a wide range of chemicals (such as bleach) and microbes. Several chemicals that we use in our daily life are harmful elements and compounds. These could be magnesium or calcium-based substances that affect water. Detergents sometimes could be carcinogenic, so they should be eliminated from the water. According to Enviroharvest Inc., "The detergents can contain suspected carcinogens, and ingredients that do not fully biodegrade."

The Hazards of Detergents to Environment

Detergents also contain oxygen-reducing substances (i.e. a chemical compound that readily transfers oxygen atoms) that may cause severe damage to the fish and marine animals. This may also lead to eutrophication. Eutrophication is a process by which a water body becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients (e.g., phosphates, calcium and magnesium). It has negative impacts on the environment, especially on aquatic animals because water rich in nutrients stimulates the growth of aquatic plant life, resulting in depletion of oxygen.

Hazard to Human Health

Chemicals could be a source of drinking water contamination. Drinking water contaminated by detergents can be hazardous to human health. Humans can become ill with a range of symptoms such as skin irritation, sore throat, nausea, stomach cramps and liver damage. Such contaminated water can also damage crops, such as rice, wheat and soybean.

Detergents and Foams

Detergents are surface-active agents, which tend to produce stable, copious foams in rivers. These foams generally form a thick and dense layer over the surface of the water, extending over several hundred yards of the river water. The foamy water is unsafe for both humans and fish.


Water pollution is a serious problem today. Many of the chemical substances which are disposed of in water are toxic. Apart from immediate health hazards that these detergents pose, the elements (e.g., lead) present in some of them can lead to more subtle, long-term health issues, such as thyroid problems or poor bone development.

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About the Author

Eric Bagai is a senior writer in the high-technology field, to which he can offer more than seven years of experience as a copywriter. He has written several articles for eHow and holds a Master of Arts in creative writing from Oregon State University.