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Environ Int. 2008 Oct;34(7):1033-49. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2008.01.004. Epub 2008 Feb 20.

Nonylphenol in the environment: a critical review on occurrence, fate, toxicity and treatment in wastewaters.

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Cranfield University, Centre for Water Science, Cranfield, MK43 0AL, UK.


Nonylphenol is a toxic xenobiotic compound classified as an endocrine disrupter capable of interfering with the hormonal system of numerous organisms. It originates principally from the degradation of nonylphenol ethoxylates which are widely used as industrial surfactants. Nonylphenol ethoxylates reach sewage treatment works in substantial quantities where they biodegrade into several by-products including nonylphenol. Due to its physical-chemical characteristics, such as low solubility and high hydrophobicity, nonylphenol accumulates in environmental compartments that are characterised by high organic content, typically sewage sludge and river sediments, where it persists. The occurrence of nonylphenol in the environment is clearly correlated with anthropogenic activities such as wastewater treatment, landfilling and sewage sludge recycling. Nonylphenol is found often in matrices such as sewage sludge, effluents from sewage treatment works, river water and sediments, soil and groundwater. The impacts of nonylphenol in the environment include feminization of aquatic organisms, decrease in male fertility and the survival of juveniles at concentrations as low as 8.2 microg/l. Due to the harmful effects of the degradation products of nonylphenol ethoxylates in the environment, the use and production of such compounds have been banned in EU countries and strictly monitored in many other countries such as Canada and Japan. Although it has been shown that the concentration of nonylphenol in the environment is decreasing, it is still found at concentrations of 4.1 microg/l in river waters and 1 mg/kg in sediments. Nonylphenol has been referred to in the list of priority substances in the Water Frame Directive and in the 3rd draft Working Document on Sludge of the EU. Consequently there is currently a concern within some industries about the possibility of future regulations that may impose the removal of trace contaminants from contaminated effluents. The significance of upgrading sewage treatment works with advanced treatment technologies for removal of trace contaminants is discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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