Glossary

Type a term:

Cleaning Products

Cleaning ProductsCommon detergents, disinfectants and spot removers all are used regularly to help keep our homes and our communities clean. Some of the chemicals in these cleansers are pollutants that mimic estrogen. And many of these chemicals do not biodegrade easily, so they stay around our environment for a long time. The great thing is, there are safer alternatives that work well.

What are the chemicals that are causing concern and where are they found?

Alkylphenols are commonly used as surfactants (surface active ingredients) in many household products, including detergents, and they are what produce suds in many of these substances. Examples of common alkylphenols include nonoxynol, octoxynol, nonylphenol, octylphenol, nonylphenol ethoxylate, and octylphenol ethoxylate. These chemicals can be found in household cleaning products including liquid clothes detergents, disinfecting cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, spot removers, and scouring cleansers. They are also found in other consumer products such as spermicides, pesticide formulations, shampoos, cosmetics, hair colorants, and hair styling aids. Alkylphenols are also used as plasticizers and stabilizers in order to give plastic desirable qualities.

How do these chemicals enter the body?

Exposure to alkylphenols can occur through the skin from shampoos, cosmetics, spermicidal lubricants, and domestic and industrial detergents. Alkylphenols do not biodegrade easily after they are washed down the drain. As a result, nonylphenol has been found in water and sediment downstream from sewage treatment plants, paper pulp mills, and industrial facilities. Thus, exposure may occur through the use of contaminated water for drinking, bathing, and cooking. Alkylphenols are also abundant in household air and dust, and exposure may therefore also occur through inhalation of contaminated air and dust particles.

What are the mechanisms by which these substances might increase the risk for breast cancer?

Alkylphenols are xenoestrogens, that is, chemicals that mimic the actions of natural estrogens. These chemicals have been shown to bind directly to the estrogen receptor, suggesting that alkylphenols have the ability to cause cells to respond in the same way they would to natural estrogen. For example, octylphenol has been shown to possess the ability to stimulate a number of biological responses, such as cell growth and gene transcription to the same extent as estradiol itself, even despite low binding activity [White et al., 1994].

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