Alkylphenols (APs) and Alkylphenolethoxylates (APEOs) are mainly surfactants, i.e. a kind of soap and soap sounds harmless. But this is misleading. In fact, they are extremely harmful to aquatic organisms. Textile surfactants such as Abs and APEOs lower the surface tension of water. This is detrimental for water striders, which suddenly sink in. Alkylphenols and Alkylphenolethoxylates can also negatively impact the breathing capability in fish. Unfortunately, this environmental hazard remains for a long time, because alkylphenols and alkylphenol ethoxylates degrade very poorly in nature. Finally, nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) is known to be harmful to reproduction. Compounds within this APEO group show hormone-like properties, impair estrogenic processes and cause rely menstruation, low sperm production and lowered reproductive health. The combination of these facts make APs and APEOs the most tested substances in textiles.
Nonylphenol (NP) is restricted by law to 1000 mg/kg and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) are restricted to 100 mg/kg according to Regulation 1907/2006 (Reach) Annex XVII Entry 46. However, their use in textile production or refinement is not restricted. They only have to be washed out prior selling and washouts need to be collected, so that they are not released into the environment. This also means that simple post-washing is not allowed in the EU. A special process must be used to collect the wash water and capture the alkylphenols and alkylphenol ethoxylates. It may be cheaper to avoid high contents of APs and APEOs, even if they could be washed out.
We test alkylphenols according to the standard DIN EN ISO 21084 and alkylphenol ethoxylates according to DIN EN ISO 18254-1. Both standards are similar in their processing. Extraction is carried out in an ultrasonic bath and then the concentration of pollutant is determined in the extract. The measurement is performed by means of GC-MS, HPLC-DAD or HPLC-MS.