Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates - still persisting!

Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates  - still persisting!

The impact of endocrine disrupting chemicals has been growing in recent years. These are chemicals which can mimic hormones and as such cause developmental problems and other diseases in animal systems. Currently there is much interest in another group of endocrine disrupting chemicals known as Nonyl phenol ethoxylates or NPEOs. These are a group of man-made chemicals that do not occur in nature other then as a result of discharge to the environment. NPE’s are widely used as surfactants for both the textile and leather industry. Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates have been under increasing scrutiny by NGOs and authorities. According to Greenpeace the damaging environmental effects of these chemicals has long been realised and as a result there have been various campaigns to highlight the environmental consequences of these chemicals.


Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEO) is the term used to describe the group of organic substances of which NPEO is one. These are mainly used as washing and cleaning agents (ie surfactants) and are used for textile and leather processing. Whilst controls are in place within the European Union, the use of these chemicals in the rest of the world is largely unregulated, although there are EPA guidelines and regulations concerning the wider use of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the USA. These chemicals are thought to persist in rivers and their sediments, and also are concentrated by wildlife, such as fish and birds, leading to contamination in their internal organs at much greater levels than in the surrounding environment.

The most significant aspect of the effects of NPEO is that they are endocrine disrupting chemicals, that is they mimic oestrogens, hormones that are responsible for the development and maintenance of secondary sexual characteristics and behaviour. It is known that compounds with oestrogenic effects disrupt the normal functioning of the hormone system, leading to potential reproductive problems.

Annex XVII of REACH contains two entries involving Nonylphenol ethoxylates, the first entry restricts the use in leather and textile processing. Entry 46 states the following:


'(Nonylphenol and Nonylphenol ethoxylate) May not be placed on the market or used as a substance or constituent of preparations in concentrations equal or higher than 0.1% by mass for the following purposes:


Textile and leather processing except;


- Processing with no release to wastewater,


- Systems with special treatment where the process water is pre-treated to remove the organic fraction completely prior to biological wastewater treatment (degreasing of sheepskins).'


Earlier this year the European Commission published a new regulation restricting the use of Nonylphenol ethoxylates in textiles, amending the Annex XVII entry under REACH regulations, the entry states the following:


‘Nonylphenol ethoxylates shall not be placed on the market after 3 February in textile articles which can reasonably be expected to be washed in water during their normal lifecycle, in concentrations equal to or greater than 0.01% by weight of that textile article or of each part of the textile article’


It is clear that there is no sustainable future for the use of these chemicals and alternatives must be sought. Fortunately for many industrial applications, alternative cost-effective surfactants are available.


Eurofins | BLC can support with chemical testing of Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates including NPEO in textiles, leather and chemical formulations. For further information on these chemicals and testing to global regulations and standards email [email protected]





9 August 2021

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