An environmental risk assessment for alcohol ethoxylates (AE) is presented that integrates wastewater treatment plant monitoring, fate, and ecotoxicity research with a new application of mixture toxicity theory based on simple similar concentration addition of AE homologs in a species-sensitivity distribution (SSD) context. AEs are nonionic surfactants composed of a homologous series of molecules that range in alkyl chain length from 12 to 18 carbons and ethoxylates from 0 to 18 units. Chronic ecotoxicity of AE is summarized for 17 species in 60 tests and then normalized to monitoring data for AE mixtures. To do so, chronic aquatic toxicity was first expressed as EC10
per species (the concentration predicted to cause a 10% reduction in an important ecological endpoint). Normalization integrated several new quantitative structure–activity relationships for algae, daphnids, fish, and mesocosms and provided an interpretation of toxicity test data as a function of individual homologs in an AE mixture. SSDs were constructed for each homolog and the HC5 (hazardous concentration protective of 95% of species based on a small biological effect [the chronic EC10]) was predicted. Total mass of AE in monitored effluents from 29 sites in Europe, Canada, and the United States averaged 6.8, 2.8, and 3.55 mg/L, respectively. For risk assessment purposes, correction of exposure to account for fatty alcohol derived from sources other than AE and for sorbed components based on experimental evidence was used to determine AE concentrations in undiluted (100%) effluents from North America and Europe. Exposure and effect findings were integrated in a toxic unit (TU)-based model that considers the measured distribution of
individual AE homologs in effluent with their corresponding SSDs. Use of environmentally relevant exposure corrections (bioavailability and accounting for AE-derived alcohol) resulted in TUs ranging from 0.015 to 0.212. Low levels of risk are concluded for AE in the aquatic environments of Europe and North America.