Dangerous Detergents 2017

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Dangerous Detergents? Health and Safety Answers for Surfactant Questions
by Laura Mina of the Health and Safety Committee and Geneva Griswold of the Sustainability Committee.
This page is based on an article published in the Health and Safety Section of the May 2017 Vol. 42, No. 3 issue of AIC News, pg. 16-19.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Detergent – aqueous solution of one or more surfactants that has cleaning properties.
Surfactant – (surface active agent) chemical whose molecules have both polar (hydrophilic) and non-polar (hydrophobic) areas, thus lowering the surface tension of solutions.
Soap – subset of surfactants that are metallic salts of fatty acids.

Cleanliness is typically associated with best practice for hygiene and conservation; however, some cleaning materials have health risks that range from slight to severe. This article will consider health and safety concerns related to surfactants, focusing on sixteen products commonly used by conservators.

Since risk is a factor of both toxicity and exposure, it is important to consider the ways surfactants are used in conservation treatments to contextualize information from Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and to determine appropriate safety measures. SDS information applies to chemicals as they are sold, but the diluted surfactant solutions used by conservators are typically less toxic than the concentrated forms. Exposure is related to application method and the scale of the project. SDS information is often based on industrial use, which can significantly vary from conservation application methods. The risk potential for an immersion bath will probably be different than a brush or swab cleaning campaign, but concentrations and time-weighted average exposures should also be considered.

Most of the cleaners used by conservators are anionic or non-ionic surfactants, but a few soaps are also used in conservation. Anionic surfactants include alkyl sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate (e.g., Orvus) and non-ionic surfactants include long chain alcohols like polyethylene glycol alkyl ethers (e.g., Triton products). Conservators also sometimes use emulsifiers, buffering agents, chelators, and other additives in cleaning systems; these materials are beyond the scope of this article.

While soaps and surfactants differ in their composition and cleaning chemistry, their health hazards are similar. Both can disrupt lipid membranes that protect cells, and this causes irritation to skin, eyes, and respiratory systems. Since these hazards are intrinsic to the materials, conservators can lower the risk of adverse effects by managing their exposure through proper handling, engineering controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The SDSs provide information about both physical hazards (such as flammability) as well as health hazards (such as eye irritants). SDSs also provide any available information on proper PPE handling and disposal. It is important to remember that a manufacturer or supplier generates an SDS based on their specific formulations; therefore, information may vary between manufacturers for the same product. In some cases, there may be no data available due to the absence of health and safety information on that chemical.

Table 1 (see p. 18) lists the most commonly used conservation surfactants and soaps, and includes primary ingredients and health hazard information. A more detailed table that includes human and environmental toxicological information, PPE recommendations, and SDS citations is available online on the on the H&S Wiki (www.conservationwiki.com/w/images/7/75/H&S_detergents_chart.pdf).

Table 1. Common Conservation Surfactants and Soaps: Health ratings and hazards[edit | edit source]

Name Classification Primary Ingredient Respitory Hazard Skin Hazard Eye Hazard Oral Hazard
Maypon 4C anionic surfactant Potassium Cocoyl Hydrolized Collagen (34-36%) slightly irritating non- to moderately irritating
Orvus WA paste anionic surfactant sodium lauryl sulfate (25-30%) no known effect causes skin irritation causes serious eye irritation no known effect
Brij 35 non-ionic surfactant Polyoxyethylene (23) lauryl ether (100%) may cause respiratory irritation causes skin irritation causes serious eye damage harmful if swallowed
Brij 700 & S100 non-ionic surfactant Polyethylene (100) Stearyl Ether (100%) may be harmful if inhaled may cause skin irritation causes serious eye damage may be harmful if swallowed
Ecosurf EH-6 non-ionic surfactant 2-Ethyl Hexanol (>99%) not likely to be harmful if inhaled causes slight skin irritation causes serious eye irritation low toxicity if swallowed
Ecosurf EH-9 non-ionic surfactant 2-Ethyl Hexanol (>99%) may be harmful if inhaled may cause slight skin irritation may cause moderate eye irritation may be harmful if swallowed
Marlipal 1618/25 non-ionic surfactant Alcohols, C16-18, ethoxylated (100%) causes skin irritation causes serious eye irritation harmful if swallowed
Surfonic JL-80X non-ionic surfactant Alcohols, C10-12, ethoxylated propoxylated (100%) may cause irritation may cause slight irritation may cause eye

irritation || may be harmful if swallowed

Synperonic A7 non-ionic surfactant Ethoxylated C12-15 alcohols (100%) causes slight irritation causes irritation causes severe eye irritation harmful if swallowed
Triton X -114 non-ionic surfactant Octylphenoxypoly (ethoxyethanol) (100%) may cause skin irritation causes serious eye damage harmful if swallowed
Triton X-100 non-ionic surfactant Polyethylene glycol octylphenyl ether (100%) causes serious eye damage harmful if swallowed
Triton XL-80N (discontinued) non-ionic surfactant Alcohols, C8-10, ethoxylated (100%) may cause irritation may cause skin irritation causes serious damage to eyes may be harmful if swallowed
Vulpex spirit soap anionic surfactant/strongly alkaline soap Methyl cyclohexyl (<40%) may be harmful if inhaled causes skin irritation causes serious eye irritation may be harmful if swallowed
Abietic acid anionic resin soap Abietic acid (100%) may cause respiratory irritation causes skin irritation causes serious eye irritation
Deoxycholic acid anionic resin soap Deoxycholic acid (100%) harmful if inhaled causes skin irritation causes eye irritation harmful if swallowed
Ethofat 242/25 non-ionic resin soap Tall oil, ethoxylated (>98%) essentially nonirritating to skin essentially nonirritating to eyes

Note: The information in this table was collected from SDSs. The SDS sources are listed in the expanded table available online at www. conservation-wiki.com/w/images/7/75/H&S_detergents_chart.pdf.

General Health & Safety Concerns[edit | edit source]

Most surfactants are classified as skin irritants, and dermal exposure is the most typical type of exposure during conservation use. Prolonged exposure can lead to dryness and chafing. Nitrile or butyl gloves are effective barriers and they are recommended as standard PPE for most surfactants. Always refer to SDSs for specific PPE information.

Eye irritation is the other most frequent health hazard related to surfactants. All of the surfactants cited in this article cause some degree of eye irritation, and some can cause more serious damage. The recommended PPE are either chemical goggles or safety glasses with side shields. As alkaline materials, detergents can cause chemical burns resulting in serious skin damage. The classic warning sign of ocular exposure to a chemical, inflammation, may not even occur with alkaline burns because the blood vessels and tissues are so severely damaged. Eye protection is particularly important when engaging in activities that pose a risk of splashing.

Inhalation is another potential risk, especially for surfactants that are sold in flake or powder form. Several SDSs state that high concentrations can cause irritation of the upper respiratory system, but suggest that good ventilation in working areas is a sufficient engineering control. Respirators should be used in situations where ventilation is inadequate, but remember that respirators only protect the user and not other people in your workspace. PPE information about respirators is included in SDS and in the online table.

Oral toxicity of many surfactants is rated as moderate to acute. To avoid accidental ingestion, it is always good practice to avoid eating or drinking in labs. Also, clean your hands when you finish or break from treatments involving chemicals.

How to Work with Surfactants Safely[edit | edit source]

  • Avoid prolonged skin contact, wear gloves that provide physical and chemical protection (remember that skin sensitivities vary greatly between individuals).
  • Avoid contact with eyes, wear safety glasses if there is a risk of splashing.
  • Avoid inhaling surfactants in particle forms, work in a well ventilated space.
  • Avoid ingestion, clean hands before eating or drinking.

Specific Concerns for Surfactants[edit | edit source]

Some surfactants have additional health concerns that may include serious implications for long-term health, including potential carcinogenicity, damage to fetuses reproductive systems, or acting as endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors harm human and aquatic life as well as other organisms by interfering with hormones, which can lead to cancers, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. These hazards can be harder to assess due to more limited information and the challenges of comparing industrial use to conservation use.

A few surfactants contain residual amounts (less than 100 ppm, and often less than 10ppm) of secondary components that are considered carcinogens, mutagens, or tumor causing agents. Ecosurf EH-9 contains 1, 4-dioxane and propylene oxide. Surfonic JL-80X contains ethylene oxide and propylene oxide. Triton X-100 and X-114 have ethylene oxide. Deoxycholic acid is a potential carcinogen and mutagen, but available data from lab tests is too limited to be definitive.

Reproductive harm is another concern associated with some surfactants. A degradation product of Triton X-100 and X-114 is octylphenol, an estrogen mimic that can cause fetal harm. Chronic exposure to residual ethylene oxide, an endocrine disruptor found in Surfonic and Triton surfactants, is also associated with adverse reproductive effects. Deoxycholic acid is not defined as a substance causing reproductive harm, but in some tests, it caused fetal harm and mortality in lab animals.

The Triton X-line of surfactants, once a “go-to” cleaning agent for conservators, is no longer recommended due to concerns about endocrine disruption. XL-80N, considered an environmentally safer alternative for X-100, has been discontinued. Many labs may contain old stock that they continue to use, so it is important to maintain proper hazard communication for these products. Hazardous waste disposal is required for bulk Triton X products.

Safer Substitutions?[edit | edit source]

It is challenging to define a chemical as “safer” since there is typically a lack of adequate exposure data on products that conservators use, as well as conservation uses of these products. For surfactants and other conservation chemical supplies, be cautious of the context in which supplier descriptions use words such as “safe,” “not harmful,” “gentle,” and “biodegradable” (Rossol, 2015). Double-check these statements with information on the SDS. These industry claims are based upon predicted surfactant exposure concentrations.

Surfonic JL-80X is commonly considered to be an environmentally safer, non-ionic replacement for the Triton X-line; however, the SDS claims it is moderately toxic to aquatic life, and its environmental persistence, biodegradability, and bioaccumulation are undetermined. In addition, the Ecosurf EH-line of surfactants have low toxicity, and are soluble in water and low polarity solvents. During disposal, remember that while the surfactant may be biodegradable, the secondary solvent is not.

Of the anionic surfactants, Maypon 4C has somewhat lower risks than Orvus WA Paste, but neither is associated with any long-term health hazards.

Environmental Safety[edit | edit source]

Surfactants are derived from petrochemicals (petroleum) or oleochemicals (fats and oils). As such, cradle to grave assessments are required to determine their overall environmental impact. After disposal, most household surfactants are considered to have low environmental impact (Cowan-Ellsberry et al, 2014).

Surfactants labeled biodegradable in SDS Section 13 are generally considered ecologically safe. The SDS definition of biodegradability refers to “down the drain” disposal, whereby the surfactant is processed through a sewer (municipal wastewater treatment) or a septic system into nonhazardous byproducts (US EPA, 2004). These treatments separate solid waste by flotation or settling, after which dissolved materials are broken down by microorganisms. It is best practice to never dispose of surfactants directly into soil or freshwater (Scott and Jones, 2000).

Finding Health & Safety Information[edit | edit source]

SDSs are invaluable sources of information, but there may be considerable discrepancy between SDSs from different sources. Manufacturers generate their own SDS and may use different information to create their ratings. Different manufacturers may also have different formulations; if possible, reference the SDS from the manufacturer of the product you are using. If the manufacturer is unknown, use the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Registry Numbers to ensure that the SDS refers to the same material and compare the ingredients and percentages of mixtures.

Also, bear in mind that limited information may be available about certain types of health concerns such as bioaccumulation, toxicity related to reproduction, and carcinogenicity. It is helpful to use the International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSC) and the Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET) to research additional health hazards. As a SDS from Sigma Aldrich states: “To the best of our knowledge, the chemical, physical, and toxicological properties have not been thoroughly investigated.”

Prudence suggests that best practices start with the selection of the least hazardous surfactant that will perform effectively. In the conservation lab, limit exposure through appropriate storage and handling practices. Once the desired surfactant is chosen for a treatment, consider different application methods that might reduce exposure and make the smallest solution needed. Finally, wear designated PPE and practice situational awareness during any cleaning treatment. With proper safety precautions, aqueous cleaning can be good clean fun.

Resources[edit | edit source]

International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSC). www.cdc.gov/niosh/ipcs/default.html.

OSHA Hazard Communication. www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3844.pdf

Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET). https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/index. htmlhttps://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/index.html.

Cowan-Ellsberry, C., S. Belanger, P. Dorn, S. Dyer, D. McAvoy, H. Sanderson, D. Versteeg, D. Ferrer, and K. Stanton. 2014. Environmental Safety of the Use of Major Surfactant Classes in North America. Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology 44 (17): 1893. DOI: 10.1080/10739149.2013.803777. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10739149.2013.803777. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10739149.2013.803777.

Rossol, M. 2015. Labels: Reading between the Lies. Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety, Inc. 29 (12): 1-7.

Scott, M. J. and M. N. Jones. 2000. The biodegradation of surfactants in the environment. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1508: 235-251. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10739149.2013.803777.

Stravroudis, C. 2009. Sorting out surfactants. WAAC Newsletter 31:1. 18-21. http://cool.conservation-us.org/waac/wn/wn31/wn31-1/wn31-105.pdf. http://cool.conservation-us.org/waac/wn/wn31/wn31-1/wn31-105.pdf.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). 2004. Primer for Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems. Accessed March 2017. www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/primer.pdf.

The AIC Health & Safety Committee. www.conservation-us.org/healthandsafety.

Glove guide. www.conservation-wiki.com/w/images/5/5b/H%26S_PPE_Chemcial_Selection_Guide_1_Page.pdf.

Guide for respiratory protection. www.conservation-wiki.com/w/images/c/c3/H%26S_A_Conservator%27s_Guide_to_Respiratory_Protection_2016.pdf.

Hazardous waste disposal information. www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/Health_%26_Safety:_From_Cradle_to_Grave:_Waste_Management_for_ Conservators.