Alcohol ethoxylates (AE) are a common nonionic surfactant employed in consumer and industrial detergents worldwide.
Commercial AE are typically complex mixtures composed of 4100 homologous compounds with varying alkyl chain lengths and varying numbers of ethylene oxide (EO) units. Recent improvements in analytical methodology have enabled accurate measurement of the entire AE mixture in sewage treatment plant (STP) influents and effluents, including alkyl chain lengths from 12 to 18 carbons
with a range of ethoxylation from 0 to 18 EO units. These improved analytical methods were used to measure AE concentrations at nine sites representative of sewage treatment processes and geographical locations. These new data will make possible a more accurate assessment of environmental risk for AE in the United States. The results indicate that all AE homologues are effectively removed (499%) in the most common treatment types. Individual STP total AE effluent concentrations ranged from a low of 0.92 mg/L for activated sludge to a high of 15.6 mg/L for a trickling filter process. For the purpose of representing a national average distribution, an average-flow-weighted wastewater treatment plant effluent concentration was determined for each AE component.
The total-flow-weighted average AE effluent concentration was 3.64 mg/L.