SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
14 July 2016
Volume 17 Issue 7

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Global Partner and Affiliate Corner: American Cleaning Institute

Kathleen Stanton, Paul DeLeo, Darci Ferrer, Francis Kruszewski and Rich Sedlak, American Cleaning Institute

Note from the Editors: This article is a continuation of the series to better inform our membership as to the activities of our global and geographic unit partners and affiliates. They are important to our overall programming and help maintain the tripartite representation that is important to SETAC. Through their involvement, we are able to provide opportunities to students and early career professionals, develop relevant workshops, create capacity building in our geographic units, and ensure that we can hold successful annual meetings.

American Cleaning Institute Logo

Nine Decades of Soap and Detergent Safety

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the American Cleaning Institute® (ACI, formerly The Soap and Detergent Association [1962–2010] and the Association of American Soap and Glycerin Producers [1926–1962]). ACI is the home of the U.S. cleaning products industry, representing producers of household, industrial and institutional cleaning products, their ingredients and finished packaging, oleochemical producers, and chemical distributors to the cleaning product industry.  ACI is dedicated to enhancing health and the quality of life through sustainable cleaning products and practices.  ACI serves both its members and the public by developing and sharing information about industry products with the technical community, policy makers, childcare and health professionals, educators, media and consumers. 

For more than 50 years, ACI has led human and environmental safety research programs, working with other industries, academia, independent scientific research organizations (such as SETAC, the Society of Toxicology, the Water Environment Research Foundation) and government entities to forward the tenets of stewardship and sustainability of the U.S. cleaning product industry.

Evolution of Environmental Research

After World War II, the use of detergents in everyday life became widespread. New and more affordable technologies such as automatic dish and clothes washers created a need for new products.  When large-scale foaming incidences became more prevalent in streams and municipal waste water treatment plants (WWTPs), the association immediately sought answers. The observation of environmental effects resulted in the commitment to study and understand the environmental fate and effects of surfactant usage and to search for replacements. New terms such as “biodegradation” and methodologies such as the shake flask test and the semi-continuous activated sludge (SCAS) procedure for assessing the primary biodegradation of alkyl benzene sulfonates (ABS) were developed to explore the fate of cleaning products in the environment.  Through these advances, the cause of foaming incidences was identified as synthetic surfactants, especially the widely used ABS, because they were not readily biodegradable. A full voluntary conversion to linear alkylbenzene sulfonates (LAS) in large-scale commercial production was completed by cleaning product manufacturers by 1965 to solve this particular water quality problem.

To further its dedication to environmental research, the association founded the SDA Technical Advisory Council. Through the Council, a series of technical reports on surfactants were developed:

Some of these methods were subsequently adopted by scientific consensus bodies, such as ASTM International.

Current Areas of Investigation

ACI’s technical programs provide the foundation for scientifically sound public, legislative and regulatory judgements about industry products and ingredients. ACI’s programs address a variety of human health and environmental safety issues from various perspectives. 

Surfactant Safety Research

Anionic and Non-ionic Surfactants

For more than 5 decades, ACI has been a focal point for research on and peer-reviewed publication of data generation and analysis related to the environmental safety of high-volume anionic and nonionic surfactants used in formulated products around the world.  Recently, a summary of that research was published as an Open Access review article, “Environmental Safety of the Use of Major Surfactant Classes in North America.”  

Alcohol-based Surfactants

More recently, ACI has had a focus on fatty alcohols in the environment as they are a building block for widely used alcohol-based surfactants. Though widespread in the environment due to production by natural sources, given the significant use of alcohol-based surfactants in formulated products, including detergents and cosmetics, fatty alcohols from biodegradation of the ethoxylates might be considered a significant contributing source. ACI supported the publication of a recent book, “Fatty Alcohols, Anthropogenic and Natural Occurrence in the Environment,” which describes their environmental occurrence, fate and behavior.  In addition, ACI sponsored field research over the course of eight years (2006-2014) using a forensic chemistry approach to demonstrate that the predominant sources of fatty alcohols in the environment are natural sources.

Cleaning Product Ingredient Safety

The 1970’s also saw the issuance of the association’s first comprehensive critical reviews of human and environmental safety data of major surfactants from not just the published literature but from company research files. These reviews by the then-SDA preceded by two decades U.S. and international programs compiling and making publicly available data on high production chemicals in commerce. The association also issued safety monographs on various other cleaning product ingredients, including sodium hypochlorite, polycarboxylates, dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride and boron-containing compounds.

cover of Consumer Product Ingredient SafetyThe association led cleaning product-related chemical consortia fulfilling the commitments to the more recent voluntary programs: the global International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) High Production Volume (HPV) Chemical Challenge Program. ACI engaged 62 companies in the U.S., Europe and Japan in meeting U.S. and global commitments to compile and make publicly available a baseline set of health and environmental effects data covering more than 260 high-volume chemicals.  In carrying out these programs, the association sought to help companies further engage in the stewardship of substances used in consumer products that have repeated human exposures and environmental releases, especially via down-the-drain disposal. In order to assist in this work, the association compiled product use data and methods for screening-level risk assessments of environmental and human exposures to chemicals resulting from the manufacturing and use of consumer products. These are compiled in the ACI publication “Consumer Product Ingredient Safety, Exposure and Risk Screening Methods for Consumer Product Ingredients.” ACI has published risk assessments applying these methods to a range of major classes of ingredients used by the consumer product industry.

ACI has since taken this commitment further. In order to satisfy the growing demand for product ingredient transparency, and in order to put hazard data in the context of a safety assessment, ACI launched the Cleaning Product Ingredient Safety Initiative (CPISI). The vision of this program is to make complete human safety data publicly available for every chemical ingredient used in dish, surface and laundry products manufactured by ACI members. The information will include sufficient hazard data and exposure information, consistent with the use of the ingredient, to perform a screening-level risk assessment relating the human safety of these ingredients to their use in cleaning products. This initiative is in its final phases to release “margin of exposure” (MOE) estimates for ingredients in consumer cleaning products. Ingredient and product use information developed to date are posted at

Wastewater Research and Modeling


RiverAbout one in five U.S. households use a decentralized wastewater treatment system. In order to understand the impact of cleaning product ingredients in on-site systems, the association conducted research in septic tank systems. This led to the development of a computer model to predict the fate of detergent ingredients in the unsaturated zone below septic tank systems. The Septic Tank Treatment System (SepTTS) Model is a tool for predicting the concentration of down-the-drain, non-volatile consumer product ingredients as they pass through a septic tank and soil system. This mass balance model can be used as a screening tool by product formulators to understand the fate of ingredients in potential product formulations.

In order to predict the environmental concentrations of consumer product ingredients emanating from the 80% of households that send their wastewater through municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants, ACI created the iSTREEM® model.  iSTREEM® is a web-based computer model which will predict the concentration of a chemical used in “down-the-drain” products at the discharge point of more than 10,000 water reclamation facilities, the intake of 1,700 downstream municipal drinking water treatment facilities, and in approximately 25,000 effluent impacted river reaches covering over 200,000 river miles across the continental U.S. In addition, the current version available online (version 1.4) incorporates the lower St. Lawrence Watershed in Canada. This fall, iSTREEM® 2.0 will be released with updated water reclamation facility data (e.g., updated attributes, effluent impacted river reaches, flows, and populations) and higher-resolution hydrologic network datasets.  It is a valuable tool to promote product stewardship, support environmental exposure and risk assessments.

As states look to regulate or further regulate graywater usage in drought-stricken areas, the association strives to ensure that officials have sound scientific information on hand so the potential impact of the ingredients used in household products are appropriately considered in graywater management programs.  The association collaborated with the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) and Colorado State University to understand the issues concerning the reuse of household graywater.  In 2006, “Long-Term Effects of Landscape Irrigation Using Household Graywater” was published.  This publication reported on the data gaps that exist in determining the long-term use of graywater for irrigation of residential landscapes, particularly as it relates to human health, landscape plants and the environment. With this information in hand, a subsequent research and publication was issued, “Long-Term Study on Landscape Irrigation Using Household Graywater – Experimental Study.”


biosolids after dryingWhile not the focus of this article, it would be remiss not to mention some of the programs developed for exploring the human health aspects of cleaning products and their ingredients.  In 1984, the SDA published “Cleanliness and the Health Revolution,” detailing how changes in personal and environmental hygiene played an important role in the health revolution in the western world. This monograph was updated in 2007 with the publication of “Against Disease: The Impact of Hygiene and Cleanliness on Health.”  This revision of the original work not only added updated and newly developed statistical data, but it included information on personal hygiene and household cleanliness challenges and practices in the home. 

In recent years, ACI has been particularly interested in providing a science-based perspective on the benefits and risk of cleaning products in relation to asthma. To that end, ACI is actively working to provide relevant analysis and research on this topic. ACI-sponsored asthma research was a part of the 2015 SETAC North America session on “Human Exposures to Chemicals in Consumer Products.”  In 2016, ACI is hosting a webinar series where it is collaborating with the Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA) Center at the University of Cincinnati for its implementation. This free webinar series is on the topic of “Chemical-Induced Asthma,” and it highlightes the advances being made with chemical-induced asthma and the role of clinical, toxicological and epidemiological research in regulatory and hazard characterization approaches.

Continued Involvement in SETAC

While this article only scratches the surface of ACI’s programs, we and our members could not do this work alone.  Through SETAC, we are able to network and work with the top professionals from academia, government and the private sectors. We often publish our work in SETAC journals, present posters and platforms of our research at SETAC meetings, organize training sessions, and sponsor Pellston Workshops. Bringing together experts from all areas of SETAC and publishing in peer-reviewed journals can only enhance the quality and credibility of ACI’s research.

All human and environmental safety related research that ACI has supported over the past seven decades can be accessed through a searchable data base at ACI Science.

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