Detergent pollutants decrease nutrient availability in soil

(1) Menlo-Atherton High School, Atherton, California, (2) Boise State University, Boise, Idaho

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Household detergents contain potentially harmful surfactants that can alter microbial activity and interfere with biogeochemical cycles. Surfactants have previously been found to inhibit enzyme activity and plant growth and alter the physical properties of soil. Because detergent pollution poses a threat to ecosystems but has not been extensively studied, this study investigated the short-term effects of detergent pollution on pH and nutrient availability in soil by utilizing silty clay loam soil. Here we observed pH, phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium levels in soil polluted with either a plant-based green detergent or a less eco-friendly detergent. Nitrogen and potassium availability levels decreased in the polluted groups. These findings support the idea that although green detergents are considered an environmentally safer choice, even these eco-friendly products have an effect on nutrient availability when introduced into soil. Overall, this study indicates that proper disposal of household products is crucial, as pollutants released into the environment can have an impact on nutrient cycling in ecosystems even in a short time period.

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