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Contact: Brian Sansoni (ACI), 202-662-2517 (office) / 202-680-9327 (mobile) or via email at

Study: Detergent "Workhorse" Ingredient
Demonstrates Low Environmental Risk

  • Peer-Reviewed Article from American Cleaning Institute Showcases Comprehensive Research on Surfactants in Waterways

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 6, 2013 – Comprehensive field research on key detergent ingredients demonstrates low environmental risk to waterways and river sediments, according to a study by the American Cleaning Institute.

The research, "Occurrence and Risk Screening of Alcohol Ethoxylate Surfactants in Three U.S. River Sediments Associated with Wastewater Treatment Plants," was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment (Volumes 463–464, 1 October 2013, Pages 600–610). The article in its entirety can be found at:

Alcohol ethoxylates are high production volume chemicals globally used in detergent and personal care products and are truly a workhorse for the household and personal care industries.

The detergent ingredients’ chemical backbone – aliphatic alcohols or simply, fatty alcohols –represent a special interest in the context of environmental risk, as these alcohols are also abundant and ubiquitous naturally occurring compounds (e.g., fats from animal and human waste, plant matter, run off).

Hence, in a risk assessment one needs to distinguish between the natural fatty alcohol concentrations and the added contribution from human activities, according to Kathleen Stanton, ACI Director of Technical and Regulatory Affairs and one of the paper’s co-authors.

"The major disposal route of alcohol ethoxylates (AE) is down-the-drain through sewage systems and municipal wastewater treatment plants into receiving surface waters," said Stanton. "This makes the fate and effects of residual AE in treated sewage effluent of interest to industry and regulators alike.

Researchers conducted a weight-of-evidence risk assessment in three streams, documenting the exposure and predicted risk, and compared these to the habitat and local plant life.

"We found through a weight-of-evidence risk assessment that alcohol ethoxylates and fatty acids associated with detergent use present a low risk to the environment. It also highlights the need to carefully consider the procedures for environmental risk assessment of compounds such as fatty alochols as they are found naturally in the environment as well as associated with consumer product use.

"This latest article ties a bow on field work first conducted in 2003," added Stanton.

For a comprehensive look at research showcasing the safety of cleaning products and their ingredients, visit


The American Cleaning Institute® (ACI) is the Home of the U.S. Cleaning Products Industry® and represents the $30 billion U.S. cleaning products market. ACI members include the formulators of soaps, detergents, and general cleaning products used in household, commercial, industrial and institutional settings; companies that supply ingredients and finished packaging for these products; and oleochemical producers. ACI ( and its members are dedicated to improving health and the quality of life through sustainable cleaning products and practices.