If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Greener Cleaners

EPA initiative urging phaseout of NPE surfactants receives mixed reviews

by Cheryl Hogue
June 19, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 25

Last week, EPA kicked off an effort urging chemical makers and formulators to voluntarily phase out nonylphenol ethoxylate surfactants (NPEs) from detergents.

NPEs and their breakdown products, notably nonylphenol, can harm aquatic animals and plants, EPA says. Nonylphenol is resistant to natural degradation, according to the agency, and the amount of this chemical in U.S. surface waters is increasing.

The agency's Design for the Environment program has identified safer alternatives that it says are comparable in cost to NPEs and readily available. EPA says its new Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative will recognize companies that voluntarily phase out the production or use of NPEs. U.S. formulators used an estimated 500 million lb of NPEs in 2004, about half of which went into detergents.

At a June 12 meeting in which EPA unveiled the initiative, reaction from detergent makers and users was mixed.

Endorsing the initiative were Procter & Gamble and Unilever, which decided decades ago against including NPEs in their laundry detergents. Another supporter was JohnsonDiversey, a formulator of cleaning products for institutional and industrial customers. JohnsonDiversey pledged to stop adding any type of alkylphenol ethoxylate (APE) surfactants, including NPEs, to its products by the end of 2006.

But NPE makers and some users of products containing these surfactants oppose the initiative. Robert Fensterheim, executive director of the APE Research Council, said major producers of NPEs agree with promoting detergents with positive environmental attributes. The agency's initiative, which he described as "a use-anything-but-NPE program," won't achieve that goal, Fensterheim said.

No data suggest that surface waters in the U.S. contain nonylphenol in levels that would trigger EPA concern, Fensterheim continued. "There is no need for a national deselection campaign" targeting NPEs, he said.

Trade associations for commercial laundries said the initiative would drive up their detergent costs.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.