Living for the Long Haul: Should we be concerned about what we put down our drains? Part 3 of 3

Here's what we can do to reduce toxins we contribute via our sewage waste to our local environment in rural Minnesota


PINE RIVER — In parts one and two of this series, we discussed the large number of toxic products we put down our drains. We noted these toxins don’t just go away, they end up in our backyards or to a sewage treatment plant.

The water ends up in our lakes and streams and even percolates into our groundwater. And the solid portion (sludge) frequently goes on our farm fields as fertilizer.

Some of the toxins present build up in the environment over time and become problems for aquatic plants, fish, water quality and, eventually, for us.

Finally, we will look at what we can do to reduce toxins we contribute via our sewage waste to our local environment here in rural Minnesota.

Let’s begin by looking at household cleaning products. It is difficult to make informed choices about choosing less toxic products. How about buying household products labeled “natural," “green” or “nontoxic”?


That is helpful; however, there are no legal definitions of what these terms mean. So the manufacturer is left to determine the meaning of the terms.

Further, the presence of only “plant-derived” materials in a product (i.e. herbal products) does not necessarily mean that the product is not toxic to us or to the environment. In a study of 655 “natural substances” by the European Union, 38% were classified as hazardous to human health and 21% were classified as hazardous to the environment.

So where do we begin to find effective cleaning products that are not hazardous to us or to the environment? We can begin with cleaning products labeled “natural," “nontoxic” or “ecofriendly” but we shouldn’t stop there. We still need to look at the ingredients (so make sure to have your glasses along).

In general, the fewer ingredients the better. If you recognize some the ingredients on the list as being simple and nontoxic, like baking soda, vinegar, limestone, etc., even better.

Choose products that have few or no dyes or fragrances. Dyes and fragrances do nothing to help clean, and they contain many of the toxins in cleaning products.

Cleaning products (laundry, kitchen, bath) also should be phosphate-free to reduce the load of phosphorus we contribute to potential algae blooms in our many beautiful lakes. This may be difficult to determine from the ingredient list; however, some products state “Recognized by the US EPA Safer Choice Program."

This designation indicates that the Environmental Protection Agency considers the product environmentally safer than other similar products. When you find a safe and effective product that works for you, use it for multiple purposes.

We don’t need 10 different cleaning products just because the TV tells us we do.


Additionally, one can easily make cleaning products from common household ingredients. Common ingredients include white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and plant-based soaps like castile soap. Recipes can be found in books or online.

It is amazing how simple it is to make cleaning products for multiple uses, and it reduces the amount of plastic containers you use in your home.

We should also think about our personal care products. Once again, look for organic or plant-based products with few ingredients, preferably without added dyes or fragrances.

There are specific toxic chemicals to definitely avoid when reviewing the ingredients list. These include parabens, triclosan, PFAS (look for something that ends in isothiazolinone), formaldehyde, coal tar and oxybenzone.

If you encounter chemicals you don’t recognize you can look them up on the website: EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. This website rates chemicals as to their potential toxicity for humans and the environment.

Many things should never be put into the sewer. These include garden chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insect repellents), automobile fluids (gas, diesel, oil, antifreeze, brake fluid) and home maintenance products (paint, varnish, solvents, adhesives, air fresheners).

These products can be taken to the Cass County Transfer Station (or similar facility in your county) for proper recycling or disposal.

Medicines also should not be flushed. Medicines can be placed in bins at police stations in Cass County and some pharmacies will accept medications for disposal.


Let’s work together and do what we can do to keep ourselves and our land, lakes and streams healthy and toxin free.

(References to all factual information quoted provided on request and comments and questions are encouraged: 

Douglas J. Weiss and Barb Mann are caretakers/directors of the nonprofit Balsam Moon Preserve in Pine River, a spiritual place of peace, sustainability and renewal.

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