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Environ Int. 2006 Apr;32(3):417-31. Epub 2005 Aug 25.

Fate, behavior and effects of surfactants and their degradation products in the environment.

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CSIRO Land and Water, Adelaide Laboratory, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.


Surfactants are widely used in household and industrial products. After use, surfactants as well as their products are mainly discharged into sewage treatment plants and then dispersed into the environment through effluent discharge into surface waters and sludge disposal on lands. Surfactants have different behavior and fate in the environment. Nonionic and cationic surfactants had much higher sorption on soil and sediment than anionic surfactants such as LAS. Most surfactants can be degraded by microbes in the environment although some surfactants such as LAS and DTDMAC as well as alkylphenols may be persistent under anaerobic conditions. LAS were found to degrade in sludge amended soils with a half-lives of 7 to 33 days. Most surfactants are not acutely toxic to organisms at environmental concentrations and aquatic chronic toxicity of surfactants occurred at concentrations usually greater than 0.1 mg/L. However, alkylphenols have shown to be capable of inducing the production of vitellogenin in male fish at a concentration as low as 5 microg/L. More toxicity data are needed to assess the effects on terrestrial organisms such as plants.

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