Effects of Soaps and Detergents on Environment:
Soaps, as already stated, are biodegradable. This implies that when discharged into water bodies, these are acted upon by microorganisms in presence of dissolved oxygen into harmless products (e.g. carbon dioxide, water, carbonates and bicarbonates). On the other hand, detergents affect the environment. Following are given some of the harmful effects of detergents on the environment.
Detergents containing phosphate as builders contribute to the growth of algae in water bodies. This results in consuming the dissolved oxygen and the aquatic animals are deprived of oxygen resulting in their death. Thus, phosphate detergents are the main cause of eutrophication of water bodies, particularly lakes.
Aquatic animals and water plants are severely affected by synthetic A concentration of 2.5–3.5 per cent of common household detergents causes mortality to some types of fish and retard the growth of (or even kill) the water plants.
Health hazards—The workers in detergent industry are exposed to enzyme additive in the formulation section. The enzymes attack the proteins in the soft lung tissue resulting in allergic conditions and respiratory problems.
The potable water acquires objectionable taste.
The detergents make the water purification process difficult. This is because, the microorganisms which oxidize organic pollutants to harmless materials are killed. Also, with detergents, the oily and greasy impurities are emulsified and their removal becomes difficult by skimming process.
The best way to check the environmental problems is to use non-phosphate builders. Some builders which have been tried are EDTA, sodium citrate, zeolite-A [Na2O.Al2O3.2SiO2.4.5H2O] and nitriotriacetic acid [N(CH2COOH)3]. However, none of these is as efficient as the phosphate additives.