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Biodegradation in water: screening tests

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Description of key information

Readily Biodegradable: 87% in 28 days (OECD 301 D), 82.4%  in 28 days (OECD 301B), 95.6% in 28 days (OECD 301B)

Key value for chemical safety assessment

Biodegradation in water:
readily biodegradable

Additional information

The ready biodegradation of (Z)-octadec-9 -enol is reliably read across from the ready test studies for multi-constituent commercial substances; Alcohols, C16-18 and C18-unsatd. (CAS 68002-94-8, with a high proportion of C18 unsaturated alcohol), C16 and C18 alcohols. Due to the unsaturation of C18 unsaturated alcohol, the substance has physico-chemical properties more similar to those of hexadecan-1-ol (C16) than octadecan-1-ol (C18).

Ready biodegradability test results of 87% in 28 days (OECD 301D), 82.4% in 28 days (OECD 301B) and 95.6% in 28 days (OECD301B) was obtained for the commercial multiconstituent alcohol, C16 and C18 alcohols respectively. 77% biodegradation in 30 days (RDA-Blok test) was also demonstrated for the commercial multi-constituent alcohol.

It is quite normal to observe some inter-laboratory variation in screening studies, particularly for substances where solubility limits may be a factor in degradation rates under the conditions of the testing. Due to the very diluted nature of the inoculum and its limited size, it may sometime happen that no degradation-competent microorganisms are present in a particular inoculum. This is evidenced by the variable mineralisation levels seen for standard reference substances under the conditions of OECD 301 (e.g. glucose, 55-90%; benzoates 61-95%) in studies collated by AISE/CESIO [AISE/CESIO company data, and the 'Study on the possible problems for the aquatic environment related to surfactants in detergents' (WRc Ref EC4294, May 1997)].

In the case where multiple reliable studies exist showing a range of extent of biodegradation in the course of standard tests, the normal approach is to base the interpretation on the higher degradation results, this is in line with ECHA guidance on information requirements and chemical safety assessment. An important piece of additional evidence to consider is the availability of ready biodegradation data from a series of tests conducted at the same laboratory at the same time, to examine degradability throughout the series of linear alcohols from C4-C22. Whilst at the time of the study by P&G (2009), the laboratory was not GLP-certified, the data are reliable and consistent throughout the homologous series. In this study (P&G, 2009) decan-1-ol (and all other chain lengths studied) was found to be readily biodegradable.

The conclusion of ready biodegradability is consistent with evidence of rapid metabolism of long-chain fatty alcohols in fish, mammals and microorganisms(see IUCLID Sections 5.3.1, 7.1 and 6.1.4).

A study of biodegradability in an anaerobic test system showed 88.6% biodegradation over a period of 84 days.

Discussion of trends in the Category of C6-24 linear and essentially-linear aliphatic alcohols:

Many biodegradation assays have been carried out on this family of alcohols. Studies generated on single carbon chain length alcohols for tests that conform most closely to ready test biodegradability methods (OECD 301 series) show that alcohols with chain lengths up to C22 are readily biodegradable. In all cases the inoculum was not acclimated. Older reliable data suggest that chain lengths above C18 are not readily biodegradable, however those studies used loading techniques which, while in general still reliable, did not make allowance for the reduced bioavailability caused by the low water solubility of these longest chain substances. Where the substances are introduced into the test vessels by coating onto the flask, very rapid biodegradation was confirmed at all chain lengths tested.

In the older supporting tests, alcohols with chain lengths up to C18 are readily biodegradable. At carbon chain lengths ≤ 14, most tests showed that pass levels for ready biodegradation were reached within the 10 day window. Chain lengths of C16-18 achieved ready test pass levels, but not within the 10 day window. The one test on a single carbon chain length greater than C18 (using docosanol) showed degradation of 37%.

Tests which allowed adaptation are considered to have significant methodological deficiencies in terms of REACH requirements for the present purpose, and are accordingly considered to be Klimisch reliability 3: Invalid. However these also consistently demonstrate extensive biodegradability. Aliphatic alcohols occur naturally in the environment and environmental organisms will be acclimated.

Reliable studies for decanol and tetradecanol that show low levels of degradation are considered to be unexplained outliers. It is usual in the interpretation of such data to take the highest levels of degradation as the key study.

P&G (2009) conducted ready biodegradation screening tests on even-numbered saturated single chain length alcohols (C6-C22) using an appropriate test method (OECD 301B). Although, the test was not conducted in compliance with GLP, the study was found to be consistent with other available data, reliable and acceptable for environmental assessment. All tests substances were found to behave in a similar way. The substances were found to be readily biodegradable meeting the ten day window after a brief lag period. A separate test using the same methodology has confirmed the ready biodegradability result, meeting the ten-day window, at the upper end of the carbon number range (docosan-1-ol) in a GLP-compliant study (Flach, 2012).

Some variability is seen in the ultimate percentage degradation over the course of the study (see Table 1 below). It is quite normal to observe some inter-laboratory variation in screening studies, particularly for substances where solubility limits may be a factor in degradation rates under the conditions of the testing. As discussed above, due to the very diluted nature of the inoculum and its limited size, it may sometime happen that no degradation-competent microorganisms are present in a particular inoculum. This is evidenced by the variable mineralisation levels seen for standard reference substances under the conditions of OECD 301. In the case where multiple reliable studies exist showing a range of extent of biodegradation in the course of standard tests, the normal approach is to base the interpretation on the higher degradation results, this is in line with ECHA guidance on information requirements and chemical safety assessment, and consistent with the availability of ready biodegradation data from a series of tests conducted at the same laboratory at the same time, to examine degradability throughout the series of linear alcohols from C6-C22. Whilst at the time of the study (P&G, 2009), the laboratory was not GLP-certified, the data are reliable and consistent throughout the homologous series. In this study (P&G, 2009) and all other chain lengths studied were found to be readily biodegradable.

Biodegradation under anaerobic conditions

The anaerobic biodegradability of a range of chain lengths within the category has been investigated (C6 and C16 alcohols, 2 studies;and C16-18 and C18 unsaturated alcohols, 2 studies). All test substances were anaerobically degradable. Results from available studies are presented in Table 2 below.

Biodegradation by algae

Rapid degradation in water is indicated by the difficulties encountered in aquatic toxicity tests (chronicDaphniareproduction) for long chain aliphatic alcohols (Section 6.1.4). Alcohols in the range C10-C15 were found to be rapidly removed from the test medium. This was attributed to metabolism by algae present as a food source in tests, and in later stages of the 21-day tests to bacterial degradation by microbes adsorbed onto the carapace of the test daphnids, despite daily cleaning of the animals.

Natural occurrence

It is important for context to note the findings from studies in the EU and US which consistently show that anthropogenic alcohols in the environment are minimal compared to the level of natural occurrence. Using stable isotope signatures of fatty alcohols in a wide variety of household products and in environmental matrices sampled from river catchments in the United States and United Kingdom, Mudgeet al.(2012) estimated that 1% or less of fatty alcohols in rivers are from waste water treatment plant (WWTP) effluents, 15% is fromin situproduction (by algae and bacteria), and 84% is of terrestrial origin. Further, the fatty alcohols discharged from the WWTP are not the original fatty alcohols found in the influent. While the compounds might have the same chain lengths, they have different stable isotopic signatures (Mudgeet al., 2012).

In conclusion, the environmental impact of these studies is that it has confirmed that the fatty alcohols entering a sewage treatment plant (as influent) are partly derived from detergents, but these are not the same alcohols as those in the effluent which arise fromin-situbacterial synthesis. In turn, the fatty alcohols found in the sediments near the outfall of the WWTP are derived from natural synthesis and are not the same alcohols as those in the effluent.

Biodegradation under anaerobic conditions

The anaerobic biodegradability of C8, C16 (2 studies) and C16-18 + C18 unsaturated (2 studies), has been investigated. Table 1 shows that all test substances were anaerobically degradable.

Table 1: Ready biodegradation data on single constituent alcohols

CAS

Chemical Name

Method

Result

Reliability

Reference

% degradation

10 day window

111-27-3

1-Hexanol

 

301B

77.7% in 28 days at 17 mg/L

69.8%

2

P&G 2009

111-27-3

1-Hexanol

 

OECD 301-D

77% in 30 days at 2 mg/L

61% in 30 days at 5 mg/L

>60% in 14 days 

2

Richterich, 2002a

111-27-3

1-Hexanol

 

Non-standard

- half life of 8.7 hours

-

2

Yonezawa and Urushigawa 1979

111-87-5

1-Octanol

 

301B

77.9% in 28 days at 18.8 mg/L

79.2%

2

P&G 2009

111-87-5

1-Octanol

 

ISO ring test (CO2 headspace biodegr. test)

92% in 28 days at 20 mg/L

>60%

2

Procter & Gamble, 1996

111-87-5

1-Octanol

 

OECD 301-B

59 % in 29 days at 10 mgC/L

-

2

Huntingdon Life Sciences Ltd. 1996a

111-87-5

1-Octanol

 

Non-standard

- half life of 1.9 hours

-

2

Yonezawa and Urushigawa 1979

112-30-1

1-Decanol

 

 

74.6% in 28 days at 15.1 mg/L

68.6%

2

P&G 2009

112-30-1

1-Decanol

 

301-D

88% in 30 days at 2 mg/L

>60%

2

Richterich, 2002c

112-30-1

1-Decanol

 

301-B

29 % after 29 day(s) at 10 mg/L

-

2

Huntingdon Life Sciences Ltd. 1996b

112-53-8

1-Dodecanol

 

301B

69% in 28 days at 15.4 mg/L

63%

2

P&G 2009

112-53-8

1-Dodecanol

 

301-D

79% in 28 days at 2 mg/L

>60% in 14 days

1

Richterich, 1993

112-72-1

1-Tetradecanol

 

301B

82.2% in 28 days at 15.9 mg/L

77.2%

2

P&G 2009

112-72-1

1-Tetradecanol

 

BODIS ~ISO 10708

92% in 28 days at 100 mg/L

>60%

1

Henkel, 1992d

112-72-1

1-Tetradecanol

 

301-B

28 % after 28 day(s) at 25.4 mg/L

-

1

Mead 1997b

36653-82-4

1-Hexadecanol

 

301B

82.4% in 28 days at 15.3 mg/L

75.2%

2

P&G 2009

36653-82-4

1-Hexadecanol

 

301B

62% after 28 days at 17.1 mg/L

<60%

1

Mead, 1997c

36653-82-4

1-Hexadecanol

 

BODIS

76 % after 28 day(s) at 100 mg/L

<60% after 14 d

2

Henkel KGaA 1992a

112-92-5

1-Octadecanol

 

301B

95.6% in 28 days at 14.5 mg/L

90.2%

2

P&G 2009

112-92-5

1-Octadecanol

 

301D

38% in 29 days at 5 mg/L

69% in 29 days at 2 mg/L

<60%

1

Henkel, 1992f

629-96-9

1-Eicosanol

 

301B

88.4% in 28 days at 15.6 mg/L

83.4%

2

P&G 2009

661-19-8

1-Docosanol

 

301B

87.5% in 28 days at 20 mg/L

75.6%

1

Flach, 2012

661-19-8

1-Docosanol

 

301B

87.9% in 28 days at 15.3 mg/L

83%

2

P&G 2009

661-19-8

1-Docosanol

 

301B

37% after 28 days at 12.4 mg/L

<60%

1

Mead, 2000

 

Table 2: Anaerobic degradation of alcohols

CAS

Chemical name

Comment

Method

Source of sludge

Concentration of test substance

Duration

% degradation at end of test

Reliability

Reference

111-87-5

1-Octanol

 

Serum bottle, gas production + GC analysis

1oor 2odigesters

50µg/ml

8 weeks

>75%

2

Sheltonand Tiedje, 1984

36653-82-4

1-Hexadecanol

 

Batch test using14C labelled test material

Municipal digester sludge fortified with activated sludge

1 mg/L

28 days

90%

2

Nuck and Federle, 1996

36653-82-4

1-Hexadecanol

 

Batch test using14C labelled test material

Municipal sewage digester

10 mg/L

28 days

97%

2

Steber and Wierich, 1987

68002-94-8

Alcohols, C16-18 and C18 unsaturated

Supporting

ECETOC screening test

Municipal sewage digester

50 mg/L

8 weeks

89%

1

Henkel, 1992e



A study by Rorije et al. (1998) on structural requirements for anaerobic biodegradation of organic chemicals is relevant. The study used a computer-automated structure evaluation program (MCASE) to analyse rates of aquatic anaerobic biodegradation of a set of diverse organic compounds, and developed a predictive model. Primary alcohols were one of the most important fragments linked to biodegradability (biophore). The authors discuss how the presence of a biophore indicates a possible site of attack for microbes to follow a metabolic pathway for anaerobic biodegradation.

Biodegradation in STP-simulation tests

Other recent data on ethoxylated alcohols also suggest that the rate of degradation could be higher than usually assigned to readily-biodegradable substances. In an OECD 303A study of the fate of alcohol ethoxylate homologues in a laboratory continuous activated sludge unit (Wind,et al., 2006) useful data about the properties and environmental exposures of alcohols are presented, although the paper describes mainly the properties of alcohol ethoxylates (AE). The waste water organisms were exposed principally to ethoxylates, but the alcohols would be generated by the degradation of the ethoxylates. The test substance comprised a 2:1 mixture of two commercial alcohol ethoxylate surfactants with chain lengths of C12-C15 (odd and even numbered) and C16-C18 (even numbered), respectively. The test substance was dosed at a concentration of 4 mg/L in the influent.

 

Results are shown in Table 3 below:

Table 3Removal of alcohols during an activated sludge test on alcohol ethoxylates.

Alcohol

Conc in effluent ng/L

Conc in sludge µg/g

%removal

C12

18

0.6

98.6

C13

21

0.7

99.5

C14

5.5

0

99.6

C15

2.9

1.1

99.8

C16

1.6

0.01

99.5

C18

58

0.7

99.1

Total

130

2

99.4

 

This shows that most of the alcohol which does not degrade (itself a small amount) was found in the solids in recovery at the end of the study.This study is important in that it indicates that the extent of removal of alcohols is high, from an exposure route that can realistically be anticipated based on the known life cycle.

References:

EU Commission, DGIII, Study on the possible problems for the aquatic environment related to surfactants in detergents, WRc, EC 4294, February, 1997

Flach, F., 2012. Biodegradability in the CO2-evolution test according to OECD 301b (July 1992). Hydrotox laboratory, report number 737, company study number 8571, Sasol, 2 May 2012.

Mudge, S.M, Deleo, P.C., Dyer, S.D. (2012). Quantifying the anthropogenic fraction of fatty alcohols in a terrestrial environment. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Vol. 31, No. 6, pp. 1209–1222.

Nuck, B.A. and Federle, T.W. 1996. Batch test for assessing the mineralization of 14C-radiolabeled compounds under realistic anaerobic conditions. Environ. Sci.. 30:12, 3597-3603.

Rorije E, Peunenburg WJGM, Klopman G (1998) Structural requirements for anaerobic biodegradation of organic chemicals: A fragment model analysis. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Vol. 17, No. 10, pp. 1943 -1950.

Shelton, D.R. and Tiedje, J.M. 1984. General method for determining anaerobic biodegradation potential. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 850-857.

Steber, J., Herold, C.P. and limia, J.M. 1995. Comparative evaluation of anaerobic biodegradability of hydrocarbons and fatty derivatives currently used as drilling fluids. Chemosphere 31:4, 3105-3118.

Steber, J. and Wierich, P. 1987. The anaerobic degradation of detergent range fatty alcohol ethoxylates. Studies with 14C-labelled model surfactants. Water Research. 21:6, 661-667.

Wind, T., R.J. Stephenson, C.V. Eadsforth, A. Sherren, R. Toy. (2006) Determination of the fate of alcohol ethoxylate homologues in a laboratory continuous activated sludge unit. Ecotox and Environ Safety, 64: 42-60.