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Green Chemistry and Design NPE in Detergents Project

The intent of this project is to demonstrate the extent to which state outreach and support can stimulate green chemistry and design projects in the private sector.

This webpage will serve as a clearinghouse for updates on the implementation of this project and for other information supporting or generated by this project.


Findings to support project activities will be posted as they become available.


In Minnesota, nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) is listed by the Minnesota Department of Health as a Chemical of High Concern.Exit to Web

MPCA recognizes that NPE has been used in virtually all indoor and outdoor settings and that its persistence leads to its long-term presence in river and lake sediments and in water treatment residues generated, land-applied or incinerated.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) focused on industrial detergent use as the most nationally-significant remaining use of NPE and EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) staff are working with companies to implement voluntary phase-out and substitution of NPE-containing liquid detergents in 2013 and powder detergents in 2014, under DfE’s Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative.Exit to Web

Previous work has eliminated NPE in household detergents. NPE continues to be used as a surfactant in other products such as paint and pesticides, but those uses are understood by EPA to be lower-level and more difficult to address because of the number of manufacturers and distributors of those types of products.

In contrast, large-scale laundries in Minnesota would be fewer and easier to contact. The MPCA project therefore leveraged the DfE work with industrial and commercial laundries. The MPCA approached the project by conducting outreach to businesses like uniform cleaning services and commercial entities like hospitals which are likely to operate large-scale laundering. The outreach helped determine the extent of remaining uses of NPE in detergents at large-scale laundries.

MPCA found during its outreach that large-scale laundries do not continue to use NPE-containing detergents in applications in which safer substitutes have been demonstrated.

Summary of survey of use

MPCA staff began this outreach project surveying the use of nonylphenol (NP) and nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) as a surfactant in detergents at Minnesota commercial and industrial laundries.

NP is persistent in the aquatic environment, moderately bioaccumulative, and extremely toxic to aquatic organisms. The primary use of NP is as an intermediate in the manufacture of NPE. To a lesser degree than NP, NPEs persist in indoor and outdoor settings, are toxic to aquatic organisms, and are correlated with mild endocrine disruption effects in humans. NPE has a long-term presence in river and lake sediments and in water treatment residues generated, land applied, or incinerated. In the environment, NPEs degrade into NP.

There have been a number of state, federal and private responses to concerns over NP and NPE. U.S. EPA has created an PDF Document NP and NPE Action Plan. EPA’s DfE program conducted an PDF Document alternatives assessment for NPE and found 8 acceptable alternatives. MDH listed NPE as a Chemical of High Concern. The states of Washington and Maine have done the same, with related regulatory requirements. Under a voluntary agreement with U.S. EPA, the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) committed its members to phasing out NPE from all liquid detergents by December 31, 2013, and from all powder detergents by December 31, 2014.

MPCA pollution prevention staff members did not find NP being used as an ingredient in a detergent at any Minnesota large-scale laundries. Thus, MPCA refocused its project work to look only at such use of NPE.

MPCA staff attempted to engage the TRSA as a partner in outreach to Minnesota laundries, without success. Turning to online business directories, MPCA staff generated a starting list of five large industrial laundries representing 25 locations. Direct calling to these listings showed consolidation to four companies with 15 facilities in total. By mid-2013, all facilities had switched away from detergents containing NPE. Primary suppliers to large laundries in Minnesota are Washing Systems, Inc. (WSI) and Ecolab. WSI developed a non-NPE alternative and its Minnesota customers were earliest adopters. Ecolab finished development of its alternative in 2012 with full implementation in Minnesota in 2013.

DfE staff members have told MPCA staff that, of the 8 alternatives to NPE their study identified, linear alcohol ethoxylates were the most commonly used. Information MPCA staff gathered from large facilities shows this to be the case in Minnesota.

MPCA staff interviewed representatives of 28 commercial laundry facilities in Minnesota, and found only two which reported using detergents containing NPE.  Outreach was  conducted with these identified firms about the concerns related to such use of NPE and the availability of alternative choices.

Estimates from 12 of the larger facilities show they have eliminated about 545,000 pounds (272 tons) of NPE use and discharge per year. MPCA staff have concluded that voluntary phase-out has been successful among commercial laundries in Minnesota. MPCA staff will look at future water and sediment monitoring results (where available) to see if the industrial laundry reductions have a noticeable impact on NP and NPE levels in waste water and the environment.

For more information

MPCA contact: Al Innes, 651-757-2457

Last modified on December 15, 2014 15:35

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