Study blames laundry for toxin in Puget Sound

Dirty water from residential washing machines is a significant source of a toxin polluting Puget Sound, according to a study released Tuesday.

Dust that sloughs off hundreds of every day household products – including cosmetics, vinyl flooring, shower curtains and furniture – accumulates on people’s clothing and goes down the drain with the laundry-room suds, the study theorizes.

The study, conducted by the Seattle-based nonprofit Washington Toxics Coalition, tested only for a single class of chemicals called phthalates, which accumulate in marine sediments and interfere with reproductive activity in marine creatures.

However, researchers say the washing machine pathway likely carries many other toxics as well.

“The phthalates are definitely an indicator chemical,” said Erika Schreder, the lead author. In the study, conducted between November 2008 and May 2009, six homeowners from Tumwater to Whidbey Island volunteered their homes as test sites. Researchers took samples of water from washing machines following the first agitation cycle.

Extrapolating the data, the study concluded that residential washing machines send about 2,110 pounds of phthalates to wastewater treatment plants each year from household dust, about 17.5 percent of the total annual load.