Ultimate biodegradation of alkylphenol ethoxylate surfactants and their biodegradation intermediates



The ultimate biodegradation of the commercial products nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE9), octylphenol ethoxylates (OPE9), and their biodegradation intermediates, NPE1.5, OPE1.5, NP, and OP, was measured using conventional methods. The extent of biodegradation was also determined by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) analysis of metabolites and measurement of dissolved organic carbon. Optimized pseudo–first order degradation rate constants and half-lives were calculated from these data and from previously published data, using Larson's equation for surfactant degradation kinetics. Ultimate aerobic biodegradation of alkylphenol ethoxylates and their biodegradation intermediates has now been examined using acclimated wastewater treatment plant sludge as the microbial seed, household wastewater treatment systems, and unacclimated fresh water, seawater, and soil. Ultimate biodegradation half-lives ranged from about one to four weeks and provide definitive evidence for the extensive biodegradability of alkyphenol ethoxylates (APE) surfactants and their metabolites and their lack of persistence in the environment.