Corrected: INSIGHT: Fatty alcohols safe in surfactants: American Cleaning Institute

22 April 2014 17:03 Source:ICIS News

Correction: In the ICIS story headlined "INSIGHT: Fatty alcohols safe in surfactants: American Cleaning Institute" dated 22 April 2014, the reference to linear alkyl benzenes has been removed from the second paragraph. A corrected story follows:

By Judith Taylor

Detergent bottlesHOUSTON (ICIS)--Fatty alcohols are an environmentally safe component in surfactants, according to research by the American Cleaning Institute (ACI).

The ACI conducted a 50-year body of research investigating potential harms to the environment that might come from the use of surfactants, therein engaging research on fatty alcohols, ethoxylated alcohols, linear alkyl sulphates (LAS) and other surfactant-related chemicals. 

As increasing scrutiny emerges on chemicals in general – and not forgetting that everything is made of chemicals – the ACI is drawing upon this longstanding record of research to offer transparency about the role that surfactants play in ensuring environmental safety alongside the key business of keeping homes, hospitals, workplaces and people clean.

As the foundation backbone of almost all surfactants, fatty alcohols are made from oleochemical processes using oilseed oils – primarily palm kernel oil (PKO) and coconut oil (CNO) – or from synthetic processes using either ethylene or gas-to-liquids (GTL) technologies.

However, in taking the alcohols along the chemical routes to make surfactants (surface-active-agents), other chemicals such as ethylene oxide, benzene and sulphates are added to the fatty alcohol, forming the surfactants ethoxylated alcohols, LABs and LAS.

The research continues to support that the fatty alcohols do not pose threat to the environment.

“The body of research done by the industry shows that residues of fatty alcohols found in the environment are from naturally occurring processes and not from the fatty alcohol-based surfactant,” says Paul DeLeo, Associate Vice President, ACI. 

The ACI research can be found at for review on the science.

Besides the fatty alcohol backbone, some additives specific to laundry detergents are under close watch from the cleaning industry, provoking changes.

Procter & Gamble (P&G) earlier this year announced it will eliminate phosphates from all of its laundry detergents over the next 24 months.

An executive of P&G said, “Our strong commitment to innovation, research and development has allowed us to improve the performance of our laundry products while also [eliminating] phosphates.”

According to public environmental research documents, many of US rivers and lakes since about the mid-1960s have experienced high aquatic plant growth, which is deleterious to other biologic forms because of expanded oxygen absorption.

High levels of phosphorus, one of several major plant nutrients, were identified as a primary contributor to the aquatic plant growth. One source of effluent phosphorus was identified as coming from phosphates used in laundry detergents, sparking extended environmental controversy on this issue. 

P&G said that it has been gradually reducing its consumption of phosphates since 2005. By the time the current laundry reformulations are implemented, the company will have eliminated close to “half a million metric tons per year compared with peak consumption during calendar year 2005”.

P&G is a major global producer and buyer of fatty alcohols and other key ingredients in detergents and surfactants.

The ACI is also working to share messages about safety issues involved with single-pack liquid laundry packets.

Originally an effort done in conjunction with the observance of National Poison Prevention Week, the ACI reached out to share its information with parents and caregivers, discussing how prevention of serious accidents with these packets can be avoided and offering messages about how to use the single-load liquid laundry delivery system effectively and safely.

According to the ACI, in 2013 there were over 10,000 laundry packet exposures in children ages 5 and younger reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

The ACI, formerly The Soap and Detergent Association, is the home of the US cleaning products industry, representing the $30bn US cleaning products market.

ACI members include soap and detergent formulators, general cleaning market groups concerned with household, commercial and industrial products. Members also include producers of fatty alcohol, glycerine and fatty acids.

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By Judith Taylor