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EC number: 205-597-3
CAS number: 143-28-2
Fatty alcohols are widely produced by bacteria, plants and animals for a
variety of purposes. Land plants and insects may use fatty alcohols in
the form of waxes for the prevention of desiccation, protection from
bacterial attack and UV screening (Mudge et al., 2008). Terrestrial
runoff may deliver long chain plant and insect waxes both associated
with the parent biological material or after partial degradation in
soils. Fatty alcohols are also used in detergent and cosmetic
formulations, which may be sourced from either petroleum or biological
materials (e.g. palm oils) and are typically disposed of down-the-drain.
For example, detergent formulations include fatty alcohols either as
underivatised components of alcohol ethoxylates (AE) or alcohol
ethoxysulphates (AES). It is logical to assume that the multiple
anthropogenic sources of fatty alcohols which pass through a WWTP would
make a contribution to the local fatty alcohol loading in the
However, an analytical tool, two dimensional stable isotope analysis (13C
and2H) is suitable for characterizing and discriminating the
different sources of fatty alcohols that may exist in a WWTP and in the
receiving waters from that WWTP. After saponification, alcohols are
extracted from the various samples, derivatised with a
trimethylsilylating agent, and separated and analysed by
gas-chromatography - mass spectrometry to identify and quantify the
fatty alcohols. The samples were then analysed by compound specific
isotope ratio mass spectrometry to generate a set of stable isotope
pairs (δ13C and δ2H) for all samples. By
plotting the stable isotope data for the various samples on a 2D plot
(see below) it is possible to distinguish the source of the various
alcohols in these samples (e.g. detergents from oleochemical sources,
petroleum based detergents, terrestrial production, aquatic production
and WWTP effluents).
A study was conducted at Treborth, North Wales (Mudge et al., 2010).
Samples were collected from soils, plants, WWTP influent, effluent and
sludge samples, marine sediments and detergents used in the catchment
area. Stable isotope data were generated using the methods above. The
isotope ratio data show that soils and terrestrially derived compounds
do not have a significant contribution and that the major sources of
fatty alcohols are derived from faecal matter (~75%) and petroleum based
detergents (~25%). The effluent samples had short chain fatty alcohols
only and the stable isotopes were different t other potential sources
and indicative of bacterial synthesis during WWTP treatment. The sludge
produced from the WWTP had relatively high concentrations of fatty
alcohols as would be expected from their water solubility. The stable
isotope signatures were consistent with a mixture of faecal and
detergent sources. The marine sediment samples had
short chain fatty alcohols that are typical of marine production and
with stable isotope values that indicate exclusive marine production for
the C14 alcohol with potentially mixed terrestrial for the C16 and C18
compounds. The fatty alcohols in the marine environments are therefore
not derived from the WWTP effluent, which in turn are not directly
derived from the fatty alcohols in the influent.
The estimated PECs based on EUSES modelling data (see Annex II) suggest
that the amount of fatty alcohols added to the environment by
anthropogenic use of the registered substances in EU is not
significantly more than that to which the environment is typically
adapted from natural sources.
North American Studies
To confirm the results observed in the European study, additional
research into the source of alcohols observed in the environment was
conducted in the United States. For the US studies, freshwater
environments were selected as opposed to the marine environment examined
in the Wales study. In addition, the impact of different waste water
treatment technologies and ecological regions were also examined.
The initial study was conducted in Luray, Virginia (Mudge et al., 2012). Luray
is in the Ecological Region 8.0 (sub-region 8.3, south eastern USA
plains) and uses an oxidation ditch followed by UV irradiation for
treatment of the waste water. Samples of river sediment, road dust and
soil were collected above the waste water discharge, at the discharge
and below the discharge. Waste water samples were also collected. The
samples were processed and analyzed in the same manner as the Wales
study. In addition to the environmental samples, a market survey of
alcohol containing detergents and consumer products was conducted and
samples of these products were analyzed.
The results from the Luray study were consistent with those obtained
from the Wales study. The waste water influent was dominated by short
chain alcohols (< C20) with the largest peak being C18 followed by C16,
C14 and C12. However, the main alcohol in the effluent
was phytol. Algae in the receiving stream were the likely origin of the
phytol. The short chain alcohols in the effluent showed a reverse trend
from the influent with the largest peak being C12 followed by C14 and
C16. Based on the stable isotope data it was postulated bacterial
synthesis was responsible for the formation of these alcohols.
Long chain alcohols (> C22) were dominant in the agricultural soil and
road dust samples. The stable isotope data indicated these alcohols
originated from terrestrial plants. An isolated peak of C16 in the
agricultural soil was likely due to bacterial synthesis. Shorter chain
alcohols (C14 to C18) were observed in river sediment samples at higher
concentrations than in soil, however, long chain alcohols (> C22) still
dominated the profile. While the sludge from the Luray WWTP was used as
a soil amendment on a farm in the area, there was no evidence the
alcohols contained in the sludge (total concentration - 900 µg/g) were
transferred to the river.
To further define the impact of waste water treatment technologies and
ecosystem regions on the source of alcohols occurring in the
environment, an additional study was conducted in the United States
(Mudge, 2012). Three different eco-regions and six different treatment
technologies were examined. The eco-regions were the Marine West Coast
Forest (Region 7), Eastern Temperate Forest (Region 8, including
sub-regions 8.1, 8.2 and 8.4) and the Great Plains (Region 9). The waste
water treatment processes were Oxidation Ditch, Activated Sludge,
Percolating or Trickling Bed Filters (TBF), Lagoons, Rotating Biological
Contactor (RBC) and Sequencing Batch Reactor (SBR).
Samples of the influent, effluent and sediments were collected from a
total of 24 WWTP and analyzed as in the two previous studies. All of the
technologies were effective at removing fatty alcohols from the influent
with 98% removal. As with the previous studies, the stable isotope
signature of the alcohols in the effluent was related to bacterial
synthesis. Also as seen previously, the fatty alcohols observe in the
sediments of the receiving waters were predominately from terrestrial
plant matter. In addition, peaks of fatty alcohols from algal and
bacterial synthesis sources were observed.
The use of alkyl chainlength and isotope signatures of carbon and
hydrogen have been used to distinguish the sources of fatty alcohols
from detergents compared to environmental media such as wastewater and
receiving water sediments. Recent studies by Mudge
(2012) and Mudge et al. (2008, 2010 and 2012) have clearly shown
that fatty alcohols rapidly biodegrade in wastewater treatment
facilities, the majority associated with fecal and detergent sources,
respectively. However, in receiving water sediments
(freshwater and marine), evidence is conclusive that the signature
corresponds to in-situ (algae, bacteria) production or
terrestrial sources (runoff of faeces- and/or plant-based alcohols). Hence,
fatty alcohols found in freshwater and marine environments are not
sourced from detergents but from natural in-situ synthesis or
terrestrial runoff sources.
Information on Registered Substances comes from registration dossiers which have been assigned a registration number. The assignment of a registration number does however not guarantee that the information in the dossier is correct or that the dossier is compliant with Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 (the REACH Regulation). This information has not been reviewed or verified by the Agency or any other authority. The content is subject to change without prior notice.Reproduction or further distribution of this information may be subject to copyright protection. Use of the information without obtaining the permission from the owner(s) of the respective information might violate the rights of the owner.
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