Friday, March 4, 2011

If it's on the ground, it's in your water

Over the years I’ve noticed that biodegradable soap is really popular. People wash their boats, cars, and windows with it, take it backpacking, it’s everywhere. One morning, I watched this window washer finish his washing job by dumping the soap onto the street, near a storm drain. As soon as he dumped the sudsy water, he saw me watching, and said “I use biodegradable soap, so it’s ok to dump it out like this.” He had a guilty look.

It is not ok. What enters into the storm drain flows into a nearby stream or bay, untreated. The term “biodegradable” means almost nothing – it’s an example of an exaggerated marketing tactic. It simply means that the product will not harm bacteria in sewage treatment plants, and that the soap will break down faster than conventional soaps. But the fact is biodegradable soap can cause fish kills in creeks as fast as any other type of detergent.

Small concentrations of detergents and biodegradable soaps in streams kill fish and their eggs, and cause other harm. One gallon of liquid soap will pollute 200,000 gallons of water. What alternatives are out there for washing windows? Here are a few steps that a local window washing professional suggests to prevent stormwater pollution:

  • Make sure to wipe off excess soapy water in a towel, and wash the towels in a washing machine, so the soap gets “treated” at the local waste water treatment plant,
  • Use a bare minimum of soap, and
  • Continue using the same bucket of soapy water all day, and at the end of the day, pour it into a toilet or sink drain.

If you have ideas and suggestions about how to prevent stormwater pollution, we’d like to hear from you! Thanks for reading.

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