Alkylphenols are surfactant chemicals added to many plastics and consumer products that have been shown to exhibit estrogen-mimicking properties and environmental persistence.
Here are some key facts about alkylphenols:
They are a class of nonionic surfactants, meaning they are compounds that lower surface tension between liquids.
Specific compounds include nonylphenol, octylphenol and other alkyl chain variations.
Uses: Added to plastics, paints, pesticides, industrial cleaners, personal care products to serve as emulsifiers, solubilizers, or dispersing agents.
Alkylphenols help make plastics more pliable and durable. They are common in plastics that contact food and liquids.
They can leach out and break down into more toxic byproducts that accumulate in the environment.
Alkylphenols were some of the first chemicals discovered to have estrogenic properties and leach from plastics.
Found in Products
Plastics – Used as additives in plastics, especially those that come in contact with food and liquids. Help make plastics more flexible and durable.
Paints – Used as surfactants and dispersing agents in paints.
Pesticides – Added as emulsifiers and solubilizers.
Industrial cleaners – Alkylphenols used as detergents and degreasers.
Personal care products – Found in hair products, cosmetics, bath products, perfumes.
Textiles and Leather – Used to make materials more soft and pliable.
Adhesives and coatings
Agriculture – Alkylphenol ethoxylates used in agrochemical formulations.
Some of the health risks associated with Akylphenols include:
Endocrine disruption – Alkylphenols are estrogenic, meaning they mimic and disrupt the hormone estrogen in the body. This can lead to reproductive and developmental issues.
Reproductive toxicity – Alkylphenol exposure has been linked to adverse effects on male fertility and reproduction in animal studies, including declining sperm count and quality.
Potential role in declining male fertility – Some human studies suggest alkylphenols may contribute to decreasing sperm counts and fertility problems in men.
Toxic to fish and wildlife – Alkylphenols have been shown to have toxic reproductive effects in fish and aquatic species. They are considered environmental endocrine disruptors.
Persistence and bioaccumulation – Alkylphenol byproducts like nonylphenol build up in organisms and the environment due to their stability and limited breakdown.
How To Avoid
Here are some tips to avoid exposure to alkylphenols:
- Avoid plastics containing alkylphenols as additives, especially food and beverage packaging. Check labels and opt for glass, stainless steel or polyethylene packaging when possible.
- Reduce use of personal care products and cosmetics containing alkylphenol ethoxylates – check ingredient lists.
- Choose fragrance-free cleaning and laundry products that do not list alkylphenol surfactants.
- Opt for unscented laundry detergent and use minimal amounts. Washing releases alkylphenols into wastewater.
- Use paints, adhesives, pesticides, etc. that specify they are alkylphenol-free.
- Avoid treated textiles and leather products – choose natural fibers instead.
- Reduce intake of fatty foods like dairy, eggs, and seafood which accumulate more alkylphenols through contamination.
- Install water filtration to remove alkylphenols from drinking water.
- Support policies to restrict/label alkylphenol use and establish safer alternatives.
Reading labels, making careful product choices, and advocating for change can help reduce exposure. But alkylphenols are challenging to fully avoid due to their widespread use.