The widespread use of detergents has raised concern with regard to the environmental pollution caused by their active ingredients, which are biorefractory, toxic and persistent. Since detergents are complex mixtures of different substances, in which synergistic effects may occur, we aimed to assess the mutagenicity of different detergent formulations, taking into account aquatic toxicity and ready biodegradability. We performed a ready biodegradability test (OECD 301 F), Daphnia magna and Vibrio fischeri toxicity tests, and mutagenicity tests (Salmonella/microsome test, Allium cepa test and comet assay). Six detergent formulations were examined, 3 pre-manufacture and 3 commercially available. All detergents presented ready biodegradability. EC50 values varied for all products, according to the marker organism used, but were always higher than the more stringent value considered for aquatic toxicity assessment (V. fischeri 10-60 mg/L; D. magna 25-300 mg/L; A. cepa 250-2000 mg/L). None of the detergents caused mutations in bacteria. However, one commercial ecolabelled product induced an increase in micronucleus frequency in A. cepa root cells. All pre-manufacture detergents and one commercial one, which gave negative results in the Ames and A. cepa tests, induced DNA damage in human leukocytes. A more accurate evaluation of the environmental impact of complex mixtures such as detergents requires a battery of tests to describe degradation, as well as toxicological and mutagenic features.
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