Characterize ethoxylates in the environment 

High-resolution accurate mass spectrometry has been effectively used to characterize ethoxylates in various environmental matrices, such as water and soil.

Nonionic ethoxylates are used as surfactants in laundry detergents and industrial cleaning products. It is also used as emulsifiers and solubilizers in pharmaceutical preparations and additives in cosmetic creams and lotions.1 Some of the most common groups of these chemicals are alcohol ethoxylates (AEs), nonylphenols (NPs) and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), which are commonly found in surface water and wastewater.2

While several studies3-4 have concluded AEs have a low toxic risk due to their ability to biodegrade extensively, there is research that raises questions. For example, one study found that AEs produce high toxicity in tadpoles.5 Other studies have shown NPs and NPEs, which are produced in large volumes, are persistent in the aquatic environment and possibly toxic,6-7 so much so that regulators such as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends NP levels to be no higher than  6.6 µg/L for acute exposures and 1.7 µg/L for chronic exposures. Environment Canada has also established a concerning level for NP of 0.7 µg/L for indefinitely chronic exposures.8

Characterize ethoxylates with mass spectrometry

The absence of a standardized approach to analyzing longer-chained ethoxylates makes targeted analysis difficult. With high-resolution mass spectrometry, you can:

  • Minimize time-consuming sample preparation
  • Reduce the risk of missing a critical component with SWATH® Acquisition, which helps enable comprehensive detection and quantification of all potential compounds of interest in a sample (MS/MSALL)
  • Enable specificity and qualitative confirmation of compound identification while maintaining robustness
  • Confirm your target identification using accurate precursor mass matching, isotope pattern matching, accurate fragment mass matching, ion ratio matching and retention time matching
  • Safeguard against reporting false positives


  1. Plata, M. R.; Contento, A. M.; Ríos, Á. Analytical characterization of alcohol-ethoxylate substances by instrumental separation techniques. TrAC Trends in Analytical Chemistry 2011, 30(7), 1018–1034. doi: 10.1016/j.trac.2011.02.015
  2. Kopiec, D.; Zembrzuska, J.; Budnik, I.; Wyrwas, B.; Dymaczewski, Z.; Komorowska-Kaufman, M.; Lukaszewski, Z. Identification of non-ionic surfactants in elements of the aquatic environment. Tenside Surfactants Detergents 2015, 52(5), 380–385. doi: 10.3139/113.110389
  3. Belanger, S.; Dorn, P.; Toy, R.; Boeije, G.; Marshall, S.; Wind, T.; Compernolle, R.V.; Zeller, D. Aquatic risk assessment of alcohol ethoxylates in North America and Europe. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 2006, 64(1), 85–99. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2005.11.003
  4. Madsen, T.; Petersen, G.; Seierø, C.; Tørsløv, J. Biodegradability and aquatic toxicity of glycoside surfactants and a nonionic alcohol ethoxylate. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society 1996, 73(7), 929–933. doi: 10.1007/bf02517997
  5. Cardellini, P.; Ometto, L. Teratogenic and toxic effects of alcohol ethoxylate and alcohol ethoxy sulfate surfactants on xenopus laevis embryos and tadpoles. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 2001, 48(2), 170–177. doi: 10.1006/eesa.2000.2005
  6. Chokwe, T.; Okonkwo, J.; Sibali, L. Distribution, exposure pathways, sources and toxicity of nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates in the environment. Water SA 2017, 43(4), 529. doi: 10.4314/wsa.v43i4.01
  7. US Environmental Protection Agency. Nonylphenol (NP) and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs) Action Plan, 2010.
  8. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life, 1999.

X500R QTOF System

This easy-to-use accurate mass spectrometer system analyzes data faster using the power of SWATH® Acquisition.

SCIEX OS Software

This all-in-one software lets you acquire, process and analyze data, and even generate reports.

QTRAP® systems

Use the MRM sensitivity of a triple quadrupole system to get even better identification and quantification.

ExionLC™ AC System

Build on the modular design of this system to expand your laboratory's range of applications and analyses.