The Environmental Protection Administration plans to restrict the use of two substances in cleaners and detergents because they have proven hazardous to animals and humans, an official said yesterday.
Nonylphenol (NP) and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE or NPEO) are the two substances in question.
NPE, a derivative of NP, is nonionic surfactant widely used in laundry detergents, dishwashing detergents, toilet cleaners, car cleaners and glass cleaners. Mixed with water, NPE will break back down into NP -- which is insoluble in water, and therefore remain in soil, rivers and groundwater.
According to the environmental agency's 2003 report, NP was found in 66.7 percent of rivers in Taiwan. Although the figure fell to 19.5 percent of rivers in 2004, the official said NP and NPE still present urgent environmental hazards.
When NP and NPE -- known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals or environmental hormones -- are digested by fish or animals, the chemicals interfere with their hormonal systems and impede growth and reproductive development.
The official said NP's chemical structure is very similar to that of estrogen, adding that in some cases researchers found NP turns the sexual organs of males into that of "neutral" or "female" fish, and causes them to lose their reproductive ability.
NP and NPE also affect humans through the food chain, causing infertility, breast cancer and other hormone-related diseases.
The official said that in EU countries the use of NP and NPE has already been limited to no more than 0.1 percent of a product. However, NP and NPE are still widely used in Taiwan as they are much cheaper than other chemicals, he said.
The official said the environmental administration has already initiated policy discussions with relevant government agencies, adding that if a decision can be made in the near future, the use of NP and NPE will be restricted under the same criteria as the EU no later than the end of this year.