The risks of detergents and their ingredients have been assessed frequently in the past 3-4 decades by a variety of industrial groups, governmental regulatory organizations and multi-stakeholder organizations. These include the IPCS, WHO, national regulatory authorities, consultants and international industry associations (USA American Cleaning Institute; AISE). For example, a recent publication reviewed the most important environmental risk assessment reviews of detergent surfactants since 1977. These reviews show that comprehensive data were available to quantify the environmental fate and effects of high volume detergent surfactants. In these reviews, the environmental risks associated with the use of modern surfactants have typically been considered as acceptable. Where there were uncertainties or gaps in knowledge related to certain surfactants or environmental compartments, they have been subsequently addressed by researchers in academia, governmental organizations and the detergent industry. In several cases, the need was identified to develop data with more sophisticated ecotoxicological test methodologies or assessment techniques, and the detergent industry has been pivotal in addressing this jointly with leading academic and governmental organizations.
In 1991, AISE and CESIO co-created ERASM, a joint platform for assessment and management of the risk of detergent-based surfactants in environmental compartments, as a response to the ongoing risk assessment activities in Europe. This platform continues to coordinate joint industry association activities for improving the knowledge about the risk assessment of detergent-based surfactants in environmental compartments.
AISE has been at the forefront of the move towards safety and sustainability far earlier than most other industry associations. Well in advance of the REACH legislation on the safe use of chemicals, AISE and CEFIC launched HERA in 1999, the Human and Environmental Risk Assessment programme to provide stakeholders and the public with relevant data and peer reviewed risk assessments for the chemicals used in detergents and cleaning products. The HERA programme is a voluntary initiative to assess the human and environmental safety of major chemical classes used in laundry detergents and household cleaning products applying the methodologies prescribed by the EU Technical Guidance Document (TGD). The objectives of the programme are to provide a common risk assessment framework for detergents and household cleaning products and to develop risk assessments of the key ingredients used in these products in an effective and transparent way.
At present, HERA assessments have been completed for a large number of detergent and cleaning products ingredients, such as alcohol ethoxylates and ethoxysulphates, amine oxides, linear alkylbenzene sulphonates, alkyl sulphates, softener ester quats, fluorescent brighteners, hydrogen peroxide, percarbonate, phosphate, perfume ingredients (HHCB, AHTN) and zeolites.