Found in both industrial and domestic detergents, NPEs are primarily used as surfactants. Consumers are most likely to encounter the in laundry detergent products. Other uses of
NPEs include certain pesticide formulations, as dispersants and wetting agents or emulsifiers. When products that contain NPE are used it risks releasing into the environment degradates such as nonylphenol (NP). Such chemicals can persist and for aquatic life they are highly toxic.
To reduce the levels of NPE released into the environment, in August 2010 the EPA issued the NP and NPE Action Plan. Concerns about the potential ecological damage due to manufacturing, processing, distribution and commercial uses of NP and NPEs are addressed by the plan. The EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Alternatives Assessment Program will implement the NP/NPE Action Plan. Within the scope of this design, the EPA has prepared an ’Alternatives for Nonylphenol Ethoxylates” document.
This document focuses on evaluating the potential toxicity for aquatic organisms and environmental persistence of NPE and alternative substances.
Released in May 2012, the final report identifies eight NPE alternatives meeting the EPA safer surfactant criteria. To determine the alternatives, the EPA studied rates of biodegradation, what degradates are produced and aquatic toxicity levels. Safer surfactants must also take into account human health and environmental characteristics, yet maintain performance and increase chemical safety.
Three examples from the EPA list of eight safer alternatives to NPEs include sorbitan
monostearate (CAS 1338-41-6), sodium lauryl sulfate (CAS 151-21-3) and benzenesulfonic acid C10-13-alkyl derivatives of sodium salt (CAS 68411-30-3). For further and detailed information see the DfE Alternatives Assessment Program and the NPE Report, visit the EPA website.
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