Toxic Cycle

BY Ing. Žaneta Milošová (Havírová)

Don’t worry, I won’t go into the details and secrets of chemistry and toxicology. We’ll look at everything from a straightforward, practical, and, most importantly, logical perspective 🙂. The toxic cycle is like any other cycle, something that keeps on going until it gets stuck in a loop. Imagine the snake that devours its own tail.

Everyone who wants to make a product needs ingredients, people, space, packaging material, logistics, and stores to offer the product. In order to save money and give the customer what they “want,” they will buy cheap ingredients, those that “meet customer requirements 😃” of course. They will create an attractive package full of colours, preferably with a natural theme so that we might think the product is eco-friendly and organic (Greenwashing). The product delivers what it promised, for example, making our hair shiny. The customer is satisfied and buys it again and again because it is for everyday use, it foams beautifully, but doesn’t last that long at the same time.

However, harmful substances are created at every step! How so? It all starts with the used ingredients, which, although functional and cheap, are often petroleum derivatives and toxic substances. Preservatives are added (the harmful ones include 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, Chloromethyl isothiazolinone, Bromochlorophen, Parabens, BHT), perfumes to mask the smell of petroleum substances and attract consumers, and then dyes to give the product an attractive colour. Finally, everything is put into packaging, which is most commonly made of plastic, also derived from petroleum. The product’s ingredients or packaging often use so-called PFAS and phthalates (endocrine disruptors). Great, isn’t it?

Why do we call it a toxic cycle though?

Unfortunately, not all harmful substances (HS) that we produce, consume, excrete, or discard simply disappear; instead, they continue to enter the environment, creating a cycle. We hear more and more frequently that harmful substances (microplastics, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors) are detected, for example, in drinking water. While the concentrations are low, even these “negligible” concentrations can have unforeseen impacts, especially in the case of endocrine disruptors. Harmful substances are everywhere – additives (E-numbers) in food, harmful substances in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, pollutants in water and air from manufacturing, combustion, etc. When you add everything up, the concentrations may not be so negligible after all, right? For example, PFAS are found virtually everywhere. Even our children are born with them.

A Danish study investigating toxic substances in cosmetic products found that two-thirds of purchased products contained substances harmful to human health and the environment [1].

Let’s illustrate this with an example: A woman works in a factory producing conventional cosmetics, exposing herself to harmful substances (HS) during the making of these products. She also uses personal care products and cosmetics that contain HS. Furthermore, she may be pregnant, and something passes on to the fetus, causing the child to be born with a burden of HS in the body. The child spends its days in disposable diapers, we rub various oils and the like into their skin. More and more waste with HS is generated, entering the natural environment. Then, for instance, she eats fish contaminated with PFAS, phthalates, mercury, and so on. Terrifying, isn’t it? Doesn’t it sound unbelievably frightening? Unfortunately, this is the reality today! This is the toxic cycle in practice!

One example of a hazardous substance for all:

Triclosan: an antimicrobial substance that kills and prevents the spread of bacteria, widely used as a preservative [2]. Despite a slow phase-out, triclosan is still used almost everywhere. In 2011, the European Court addressed triclosan concerning microbial resistance, ruling in favour of triclosan [3]. However, it has been detected in drinking water, rivers, lakes, soil, and animal tissue, including humans. Moreover, it is persistent, with its presence confirmed in samples dating back approximately 40 years [4].

Triclosan has been shown to react with chlorine in drinking water to form chloroform. Chloroform is associated with bladder cancer and spontaneous abortions. Phenol, present in triclosan, can cause skin irritation and numb sensors in nerve endings [5]. In terms of its negative impact on human health, a recent study revealed that triclosan contains dioxins as an unintended byproduct [6]. Triclosan in soap is overrated, and a comparison conducted by the World Health Organization shows that alcohol-based products are more effective.

Hygiene is, of course, important, especially in hospitals and any environment where people come into contact with each other. Handwashing is and always will be essential! In most cases, however, regular soap [7] is sufficient, and alcohol-based disinfection is sought after in hospitals. It is astonishing that cases of infections being transmitted in hospitals due to inadequate handwashing are still present globally, leading to deaths solely due to improper hygiene practices among hospital staff [8].

How can we change the situation ourselves?

  • Certainly, eliminating the production and consumption of products containing harmful or potentially harmful substances is fundamental. This can be achieved by pressuring manufacturers and choosing more suitable products.
  • Avoiding “heavy chemicals” – learning to use gentler alternatives. If someone must use them, protective gear such as gloves, a respirator, and goggles should be worn.
  • Not succumbing to advertisements and manufacturers claiming that we need a sterile environment at home just for their profit. Why is it better to clean our homes with common products like baking soda, vinegar, soap, or other natural cleaners? Because bacteria and viruses return within seconds to days, and we end up destroying our “buddies” – friendly bacteria. This compromises our immune response, which can set us up for more frequent illness and the like.
  • Avoiding hazardous substances and using more natural products with similar effects is the best. Take an interest in the composition of products, such as cleaning and laundry products, and do not settle for incomplete ingredient lists. It’s possible to write to manufacturers and request complete ingredient lists (Safety Data Sheets – SDS). Let’s be curious!
  • Avoiding plastic. Toys, utensils, and similar items often only have labels like plastic or PE, PP, etc. We still don’t know the full composition, whether they contain bisphenols, phthalates, and other harmful substances.
  • Avoid unnecessary use of antibacterial, antiviral, and sanitizing products where they are not needed. This unnecessarily increases the risk of antimicrobial resistance, which is highly dangerous.
  • The biggest challenge is the lobbying from manufacturers and the lack of studies (which take many years). Assessing risks in nature is also a long process. Therefore, it’s advantageous to avoid hazardous substances immediately upon purchase and don’t wait until an independent study alerts us.
  • Beware of greenwashing.
  • Let’s research manufacturers, where they are based, who works there, where they source their raw materials, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
  • Pressuring water suppliers and wastewater treatment plants. Using new/old (but functional) technologies to dispose of persistent pollutants (PFAS, microplastics, heavy metals, nanoplastics, etc.). For example, the Wasser 3.0 method seems promising. Purification through activated carbon, UV radiation, using botanicals, and more. Implementing technologies to remove pollutants directly in wastewater treatment plants and investing in their renovation.

We don’t want to say that we must do all the help ourselves, but if more people are conscious like this and don’t buy products containing harmful substances, manufacturers won’t have a market, and they may start thinking more responsibly and ecologically (hopefully). Is it science fiction? We’ll see! Every step counts, and we have to start somewhere. Let’s wish each other luck! 🙂


  • Ing. Žaneta Milošová (Havírová)

    She does what she enjoys – works as CEO of GreenScan. She studied at Technical University of Ostrava, where she got a master’s degree in Environmental engineering. She always cared about nature and things around it. She loves mountains, forests, animals and embraces modernity as well. That’s why she tries to look for a balance between nature and modern world.


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