The toxicity values of fatty-alcohol ethoxylates, nonylphenol polyethoxylate, and alkylpolyglucosides have been determined by applying assays with luminescent bacteria. Also, the relation between metabolites and ecotoxicity during the biodegradation process has been determined. The biodegradation tests were carried out according to the OECD 301 E test for ready biodegradability. In these tests a solution of the surfactant, representing the sole carbon source for the microorganisms, was tested in a mineral medium, inoculated and incubated under aerobic conditions in the dark. The toxicity of surfactants is related to their molecular structure (Quantitative Structure Activity Relationships, QSAR). For the alkylpolyglucosides, toxicity expressed as EC50 is related with the critical micelle concentration (CMC), the hydrophilic-lipophilic balance (HLB) of the surfactant, and the hydrophobic alkyl chain (R). The results indicate that toxicity increased as the CMC decreased and as the hydrophobicity increased and R rose. For fatty-alcohol ethoxylates, parameters characteristic studied have been HLB, number of units of ethylene oxide and the alkyl chain length. Relationships found are in agreement with the fact that increasing the alkyl chain length leads to a lower EC50, whereas increasing ethoxylation leads to a lower toxicity. An analysis of the behaviour of the toxicity and HLB again indicates that the toxicity was greater for surfactants with a smaller HLB. The evolution of the toxicity was studied over the biodegradation process, expressed as a percentage of inhibition. For all the non-ionic surfactants assayed, except for the nonylphenol polyethoxylate, a major decline was found in toxicity during the first days of the biodegradation assay and at all the concentrations tested.

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