Chemical-based products that contain ingredients like formaldehyde and bronopol (and many others) can be risky to work with, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required products containing these chemicals to clearly state their toxic nature on the container. You might not know that even sewage treatment plants don’t use harsh chemicals like bronopol to treat municipal wastewater; they use bacteria treatments to promote waste breakdown and digestion. Chemical treatments are so devastating to the breakdown process and community groundwater that states like Wisconsin and Oregan closed down dump sites at rest areas because so many harsh chemicals contained in the dumped waste had begun damaging a nearby waste treatment plant. In fact, California has completely banned the use of RV holding tank products that contain formaldehyde, bronopol, and many other harsh chemicals. Chemicals like formaldehyde and bronopol ruin all the benefits of bacteria and pose danger to humans and the environment.
Bronopol is an antibacterial chemical used in pesticides and as a preservative chemical in many common consumer products. Multiple studies by the EPA show that high levels of bronopol can cause severe skin and eye irritation and can cause respiratory issues if high levels are inhaled. It is toxic enough that they require products containing it to very clearly warn against contact with the skin and eyes and breathing in fumes. They even recommend that clothing drenched with the solution containing it be thrown away and never reused. That’s two strikes against bronopol: kills waste-digesting bacteria and can be toxic to humans and the environment. The amounts of bronopol used in RV tank treatments are not overly dangerous to use in your holding tanks, but if whole states are banning its use in RVs and dumping sites, it might be better to consider a different treatment option. Bronopol is also highly water-soluble, a feature which allows it to release formaldehyde as a by-product. So, strike three: one harsh chemical creates another!
Formaldehyde is a chemical that is used in numerous consumer products and medications and is also naturally produced in nature, foods, and our own bodies as a part of cell metabolism. Government studies have found that formaldehyde used in consumer products is well below danger thresholds and poses little risk to the average person, even those with respiratory conditions such as asthma. However, it is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing chemical) so it’s still in your best interests to avoid any products that could contain or produce formaldehyde. Like bronopol, it is also devastating to the bacteria in your holding tanks and the environment.
So chemical treatments containing bronopol and formaldehyde will very effectively kill the bacteria in your holding tanks, causing all waste breakdown to cease and only mask odors with a stronger smell that may make your head swim anyway. If you use chemical treatments in conjunction with The Unique Method, you will still see some positive results because the mere practice of the habits described in the method will curb some problems, even without beneficial bacteria. Nevertheless, we don’t recommend using chemical treatments because they can be very dangerous to your health and the environment and are illegal in several states.
The same safety and legal issues apply to many of the new zinc-based treatment products on the market. These products can provide some benefit for certain types of campers, but we always recommend taking into account the risk factor certain products have on humans and the environment, and these treatment types don’t meet that standard. Bacteria and enzyme products are the gold standard because there are no legal issues, they will not harm the environment or water treatment plants, and they are incredibly effective when paired with the right habits.
The next article will discuss why fragrance only treatments or deodorizers can sometimes be just as bad as chemical treatments.