, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Biodegradation of nonionic and anionic surfactants in domestic wastewater under simulated sewer conditions

  • Jennifer Z. Menzies
  • Kathleen McDonough
  • Drew McAvoy
  • Thomas W. Federle
Original Paper


The ultimate disposition of chemicals discarded down the drain can be substantially impacted by their fate in the sewer, but to date limited data have been published on the biodegradability of chemicals in sewer systems. The recently established OECD 314 guideline (Simulation tests to assess the biodegradability of chemicals discharged in wastewater, 2008) contains a simulation method (314A) for evaluating the biodegradation of chemicals in sewage under simulated sewer conditions. This research used the OECD 314A method to evaluate the rates and pathways of primary and ultimate biodegradation of a suite of 14C-labeled homologues representing four classes of high volume surfactants including nonionic alkyl ethoxylates (AE), and anionic alkyl ethoxysulfates (AES), alkyl sulfate (AS) and linear alkyl benzene sulfonate (LAS). All the tested homologues exhibited >97 % loss of parent, formation of metabolites, and some level (16–94 %) of CO2 production after being incubated 96–100 h in raw domestic wastewater. Comparison of C12E3, C14E3, and C16E3 showed that the first order biodegradation rate was affected by alkyl chain length with rates ranging from 6.8 h−1 for C12E3 to 0.49 h−1 for C16E3. Conversely, comparison of C14E1, C14E3, and C14E9 showed that the number of ethoxy units did not impact the biodegradation rate. AES and AS degraded quickly with first order kinetic rates of 1.9–3.7 and 41 h−1 respectively. LAS did not exhibit first order decay kinetics and primary degradation was slow. Biodegradation pathways were also determined. This work shows that biodegradation in the sewer has a substantial impact on levels of surfactants and surfactant metabolites that ultimately reach wastewater treatment plants.


Alkyl ethoxylate Alkyl sulfate Linear alkyl benzene sulfonate Alkyl ethoxy sulfate Personal care products Risk assessment 

Supplementary material

10532_2016_9773_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (165 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 165 kb)
10532_2016_9773_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (189 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 188 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Procter and Gamble CompanyMasonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical, Chemical, and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA

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