Abstract

Alkylphenol ethoxylates and, in particular, nonylphenol ethoxylates have found many industrial, commercial, institutional and household uses in Canada. These nonionic surfactants are very efficient and cost effective. Their widespread use has led to the detection of the parent surfactants and their degradation products in various environmental matrices. Alkylphenol ethoxylates can be degraded aerobically and anaerobically in natural environments and sewage treatment plants.. The resulting degradation products are more persistent, more toxic, more lipophilic, less water soluble and more estrogenic than their parent compounds. This article reviews the occurrence of nonylphenol polyethoxylates and their degradation products as well as octylphenol poly-ethoxylates and their degradation products. There is limited information available about the concentrations of these substances in their original product formulations. The highest levels of the degradation products, especially nonylphenol, occur in the anaerobically digested sludge of sewage treatment plants. Sludge from these sewage treatment plants may be used as an amendment to agricultural soils. Various sewage treatment plants have wide ranges of discharged effluent concentrations of these compounds — some appear to be very efficient at removing alkylphenolics from their effluent stream. Little information is available about the fate of these substances in their receiving environment, and environmental concentrations and bioaccumulation factors of these contaminants in aquatic biota. More research is required on the uptake, persistence and bioaccumulation of alkylphenolic metabolites in fish, mussels and other aquatic organisms

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