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Ecotoxicological characterization of polyoxyethylene glycerol ester non-ionic surfactants and their mixtures with anionic and non-ionic surfactants

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This paper reports on a study that investigated the aquatic toxicity of new non-ionic surfactants derived from renewable raw materials, polyoxyethylene glycerol ester (PGE), and their binary mixtures with anionic and non-ionic surfactants. Toxicity of pure PGEs was determined using representative organisms from different trophic levels: luminescent bacteria (Vibrio fischeri), microalgae (Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata), and freshwater crustaceans (Daphnia magna). Relationships between toxicity and the structural parameters such as unit of ethylene oxide (EO) and hydrophilic-lipophilic balance (HLB) were evaluated. Critical micellar concentration (CMC) in the conditions of the toxicity test was also determined. It was found that the toxicity of the aqueous solutions of PGE decreased when the number of EO units in the molecule, HLB, and CMC increased. PGEs showed lower CMC in marine medium, and the toxicity to V. ficheri is lower when the CMC was higher. Given their non-polar nature, narcosis was expected to be the primary mode of toxic action of PGEs. For the mixture of surfactants, we observed that the mixtures with PGE that had the higher numbers of EO units were more toxic than the aqueous solutions of pure surfactants. Moreover, we found that concentration addition was the type of action more likely to occur for mixtures of PGE with lower numbers of EO units with non-ionic surfactants (alkylpolyglucoside and fatty alcohol ethoxylate), whereas for the mixture of PGE with lower EO units and anionic surfactant (ether carboxylic derivative), the most common response type was response addition. In case of mixtures involving amphoteric surfactants and PGEs with the higher numbers of EO units, no clear pattern with regard to the mixture toxicity response type could be observed.

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Francisco Ríos acknowledges the support from the University of Granada and the Research Group TEP-212: Surfactants, Enzymes and Emulsions, within the postdoctoral grant “Contratos Puente—Plan Propio de Investigación.”

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Correspondence to Mercedes Fernández-Serrano.

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Responsible editor: Markus Hecker

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Ríos, F., Fernández-Arteaga, A., Lechuga, M. et al. Ecotoxicological characterization of polyoxyethylene glycerol ester non-ionic surfactants and their mixtures with anionic and non-ionic surfactants. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 10121–10130 (2017).

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  • Non-ionic surfactants
  • Polyoxyethylene glycerol ester
  • Toxicity
  • Mixtures
  • Renewable raw materials
  • Narcosis
  • Concentration addition
  • Response addition