The plant-based products, which include dish washing soap to floor detergent, are popular among the green types, especially those who consider themselves eco-chic. Admittedly we do feel a bit holier than thou when we use them, feeling as though we have the luxury to pour our washing machine’s grey water all over the garden.
But is Ecover really all that green? The brand may have a brown stain. According to a new survey by Organic Consumers Association, Ecover dish washing detergent has about double the amount of cancer-causing dioxane in it than regular run-o-the-mill washing up detergent.
Dioxane, according to Wikipedia, is a known eye and respiratory tract irritant. It can cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. It is a known carcinogen in animals. Used as a solvent, the chemical is also found in foaming agents and as a byproduct in cosmetics manufacturing.
Should we be worried?
The somewhat un-green exposure of Ecover has made it to some of the smaller blogs and community forums such as the Israel_Wholistic_Forum (where we first spotted the find), Allie’s Green Answers and Life Goggles.
Allie wrote Ecover and this is the response she got:
Substantial quantities of dioxane are found in the production of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, a fabric that is worn daily by roughly 85 % of the planet’s population.
Mainly produced by two US companies, the ingredient is also used in high dosages as a solvent in mass production, including the paper and cotton industry as well as the polymer industry for the production of PET bottles.
It is therefore astonishing that the above-mentioned investigation turned a blind eye on such superabundant and well-spread sources and preferred to single out easy-to-research, mere minute traces of dioxine in detergents.
Several years ago, the European detergent industry put a limit on dioxane traces at 100 parts per million of surfactant. Ecover’s own criterion is set at half, namely 50 parts per million.
This leads to values as low as the 2,4 parts detected in the Ecover product. The threshold for reporting the presence of dioxane in tap water in The Netherlands, a country with a stringent environmental legislation, is 3 parts per million parts of water. This means that, in the unlikely event, you drank an entire bottle of pure Ecover Dishwashing liquid you still wouldn’t reach that threshold!”
Perhaps a zero tolerance limit on green products is too much to expect. The news, however, is important for a number of reasons. For one, it will probably blow the lid off the airtight market that Ecover has around the world. Over here in Israel, Ecover is by far the most dominant eco-cleaning product, now being sold even in mainstream grocery stores.
Secondly, do any of us really wonder what makes a cleaning product eco? Other materials in Ecover such as sodium lauryl sulphate are also linked to cancer. Maybe the product is phosphate free, but that doesn’t mean it’s home free (in our green books).
Another thing we’d been wondering about Ecover is all that plastic packaging. Sure it’s possible in some locations to buy the less polluting refillable solutions, but really? Why haven’t the greens thought up a type of cleaning product concentrate, the size of a capsule that one can toss into a bottle and refill with regular tap water? That would save immensely on packaging, transport and disposal waste.
And back to the survey. Which brands do measure up to the highest green standards?
For minimizing dioxane risk, the best grade goes to Dr. Bronners as non-detectable for dioxane. The brand carries soaps which are not only organic and safe, but all purpose. One soap can go from washing dishes, to teeth, floors and laundry. We had a boyfriend in Toronto once who swore by the stuff – using it to wash his teeth and his hair!
See a screener for a new film about Dr. Bronner. Warning, he’s quirky.
Dr. Bronner was a holocaust survivor, who had a vision to promote world peace. Last we heard there was no-one selling Dr. Bronners in Israel, although his website is selling Holy Land fair trade olive oil.
A business opportunity?
Image credit, Inferis
Update: see video on the organization that did the testing:
Update #2: see the discussion we started unfold at TreeHugger (there are some great comments by chemists)