US study of detergent ingredients reveals low environmental risk

19th of August 2013
US study of detergent ingredients reveals low environmental risk

A comprehensive study in the USA on key detergent ingredients demonstrates low environmental risk to waterways and river sediments, according to the American Cleaning Institute.

The research, 'Occurrence and Risk Screening of Alcohol Ethoxylate Surfactants in Three US River Sediments Associated with Wastewater Treatment Plants', was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment.

Alcohol ethoxylates are high production volume chemicals globally used in detergent and personal care products and are a workhorse for the household and personal care industries.

The detergent ingredients' chemical backbone - aliphatic alcohols or simply, fatty alcohols - represent a special interest in the context of environmental risk, as these alcohols are also abundant and ubiquitous naturally occurring compounds (for example, fats from animal and human waste, plant matter, run off).

Hence in a risk assessment one needs to distinguish between the natural fatty alcohol concentrations and the added contribution from human activities, according to Kathleen Stanton, ACI director of technical and regulatory affairs and one of the paper's co-authors.

"The major disposal route of alcohol ethoxylates (AE) is down-the-drain through sewage systems and municipal wastewater treatment plants into receiving surface waters," she said. "This makes the fate and effects of residual AE in treated sewage effluent of interest to industry and regulators alike."

Researchers conducted a weight-of-evidence risk assessment in three streams, documenting the exposure and predicted risk, and compared these to the habitat and local plant life.

Stanton continued: "We found through a weight-of-evidence risk assessment that alcohol ethoxylates and fatty acids associated with detergent use present a low risk to the environment. It also highlights the need to carefully consider the procedures for environmental risk assessment of compounds such as fatty alochols as they are found naturally in the environment as well as associated with consumer product use."

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