The safety of synthetic zeolites used in detergents

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Synthetic zeolites are replacing phosphates as builders in laundry detergents; workers and consumers may, therefore, increasingly be exposed to these materials and it is important to assess their safety. This article puts mechanistic, toxicological and exposure data into context for a safety assessment. Zeolites are hygroscopic compounds with ion-exchanging properties. They may partially decompose under acidic conditions such as in the stomach releasing sodium ions, silicic acid and aluminum salts. The intact molecule is not bioavailable after oral intake or exposure through the dermal and inhalational routes. Under current conditions of manufacture and use, no systemic toxicity is to be expected from neither the intact molecule nor the degradation products; a significant effect on the bioavailability of other compounds is not likely. Zeolites may cause local irritation. It is, therefore, important to minimise occupational exposure. The co-operation of detergent manufacturers with the manufacturers of washing machines is necessary to find the right balance between environmental aspects such as energy and water savings and the occurrence of detergent residues on textiles due to insufficient rinsing.

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