Vol. 1, No. 1 (August 1995) – Preface

An Introduction to The CLER Review:  The Need, The Purpose

We welcome you to the first issue of this new journal, The CLER Review, which is published by the Council for LAB/LAS Environmental Research in Washington, D.C. The purpose of every technical publication is to disseminate knowledge. This is the purpose of The CLER Review. Uniquely, it will bring together in a single publication the key scientific and public policy information on one of the most important and widely used chemicals in the modern world: linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS) and its precursor, linear alkylbenzene (LAB).

LAS was introduced in the mid-1960s to solve a highly visible environmental problem: excessive foaming in sewage treatment plants and streams caused by an earlier surfactant, branched alkylbenzene sulfonate. The improvement was dramatic. Since that time, LAS has become the major cleaning agent for laundry detergents in most parts of the world. Its popularity is based not only on its environmental benefits, but on its efficacy as a surfactant and on its cost effectiveness.

Yet in recent years new issues have arisen. As environmental sensibilities have grown, questions have been raised over the biodegradability and the anaerobic degradability of LAS. Other questions have been raised over the appropriateness of making and using surfactants from “non-renewable” resources. Most recently, fears have been raised over the apparent estrogenic effects of multiple chemicals in the environment. In the absence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, rumors, suspicions and theories will persist, gaining and losing currency with each new research paper. Even as we approach the millennium, it remains as difficult as ever to prove a negative.

The reason for The CLER Review, therefore, is to help all those who make or use LAS, or are considering using it, or are considering using an alternative, to better understand what is known and what is unknown, and thus to make sound decisions. So in addition to disseminating information on research results, we will seek to provide some perspective, some analysis, some guidance. We will attempt, too, to relate research to public policy. We do not believe this will be easy, but we are convinced that it is a need that is not being met by any other publication. In short, we hope to become a recognized authority on the environmental effects of LAB and LAS, a publication that all in the soap and detergent industry, environmental agencies and other stakeholders concerned with detergents, can turn to with confidence. This is our goal.

In this first issue, we are playing catch-up. There are more than 30 years of studies on the environmental effects of LAB and LAS.

We have chosen for this issue those studies that approach landmark status in their quality and their conclusions. While all have appeared before in other publications, or have been presented as papers at professional gatherings, they are no longer easily accessible. Our purpose is to make them accessible and easy to reference by providing them with a form of permanence. Future issues will continue to mine the body of existing knowledge, while also presenting new research and more recent interpretations. We may also, from time to time, take issue with those who seem to us to be misinterpreting the available data for no other purpose than to gain marketing advantage for a specific product.

We hope that you will find The CLER Review a valuable resource as you seek answers to the questions being asked, that it will help clarify the issues, that it will lead to sound decisionmaking, and last but not least, that you will want to keep each issue as a useful reference. We will welcome your comments and suggestions, as well as letters and manuscripts for future issues.

The quality of any publication necessarily reflects the standards of its editor. We are particularly fortunate in this respect. The CLER Review will be edited by John E. Heinze, who for many years has been a leading environmental scientist in the soap and detergent industry, first for the Dial Corporation and latterly at Vista Chemical. He has an intimate knowledge of the vast database on LAB and LAS and is the author of numerous technical papers. Dr. Heinze also serves as the technical director of the Council for LAB/LAS Environmental Research. In future, his comments will appear in this space in each issue of The CLER Review.

Thomas G. Grumbles
Council for LAB/LAS Environmental Research