APEO / NPEO Testing

Currently there is much interest in another group of endocrine disrupting chemicals known as Nonyl phenol ethoxylates or NPEO’s. These are a group of man-made chemicals that do not occur in nature other then as a result of discharge to the environment. NPEO’s are widely used as surfactants for both the textile and leather industry. The damaging environmental effects of these chemicals has long been realised and as a result there have been various campaigns to highlight the environmental consequences of these chemicals.

Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEO) is the term used to describe the group of organic substances of which NPEO is one. These are mainly used as washing and cleaning agents (i.e. surfactants) and are used for textile and leather processing. Whilst controls are in place within the European Union, the use of these chemicals in the rest of the world is largely unregulated, although there are EPA guidelines and regulations concerning the wider use of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the USA. These chemicals are thought to persist in rivers and their sediments, and also are concentrated by wildlife, such as fish and birds, leading to contamination in their internal organs at much greater levels than in the surrounding environment.

Most significantly NPEO breaks down in the environment to the parent molecule NP (nonyl phenol). NP is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic.

The most significant aspect of the effects of NPEO is that they are endocrine disrupting chemicals, that is they mimic oestrogen, hormones that are responsible for the development and maintenance of secondary sexual characteristics and behaviour. It is known that compounds with oestrogenic effects disrupt the normal functioning of the hormone system, leading to potential reproductive problems.

“These chemicals are thought to persist in rivers and their sediments, and also are concentrated by wildlife, such as fish and birds”

What legislation relates to NPEO’s?

NPEO’s are listed under Annex XVII of REACH. This applies within European communities to restrict the use of these compounds and has been in force since 2005.

The Directive states the following:

‘(Nonylphenol and Nonylphenol ethoxylate) May not be placed on the market or used as a substance or constituent of preparations in concentrations equal or higher than 0.1% by mass for the following purposes:

Textile and leather processing except;

– Processing with no release to wastewater,

– Systems with special treatment where the process water is pre-treated to remove the organic fraction completely prior to biological wastewater treatment (degreasing of sheepskins).’

Other applications are also restricted by the legislation, including industrial cleaning, domestic cleaning, metal working, pulp and paper manufacture, cosmetics, personal care products, pesticides and biocides.

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