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Octylphenols

OPs

SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
1.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Water
1.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Waste Water
1.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Land
Disclaimer
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
Octylphenols (OPs) are a group of related chemicals. Under normal conditions, OPs are white crystals or powder. OPs are stable and unreactive. Most OPs are virtually insoluble in water, but will dissolve in organic (carbon-containing) solvents.
What is it used for?
OPs are mainly used in the chemical industry to produce the widely used Octylphenol ethoxylates (OPEs). OPs are also added to a number of commercial products: paints, adhesives, pesticides, adhesives, plastics and rubbers and cosmetics.
Where does it come from?
OPs may be released during their manufacture and during the use and disposal of products containing them. OPs are also formed when widely used Octylphenol ethoxylates (OPEs) break down in the environment. There are not thought to be any natural sources of OPs to the environment.
How might it affect the environment?
OPs are known to be very toxic to wildlife, particularly aquatic organisms. There is also concern that they mimic the behaviour of animal hormones, that they are an "endocrine disruptor". OPs can be very persistent in the environment. This persistence means that they can be transported far from the point of original release. OPs are accumulated and concentrated by aquatic organisms and birds. It is therefore possible that the presence of OPs in the environment poses a long-term threat to wildlife on both a local and global scale.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
Octylphenols can enter the body either by inhalation of air containing octylphenol, ingestion of contaminated water, or by dermal contact with octylphenols. Inhalation of air containing octylphenols may cause respiratory tract irritation. Ingestion of octylphenols may lead to gastrointestinal irritation. Dermal contact with octylphenols can cause skin irritation. Eye contact can cause irritation. There is little evidence as to the full effects of exposure to octylphenols on human health, however octylphenol is toxic and exposure to high levels may cause serious health effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has not designated octylphenols in terms of their carcinogenicity. However, exposure to octylphenols at normal background levels is unlikely to have any adverse effect on human health.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
Since 1976, the UK government has had a voluntary agreement with industry that OPs are not added to domestic detergents. The main aim of this is to protect aquatic environments. Otherwise, releases of OPs are controlled through the UK Pollution, Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations. At a European level, they are regulated through the Directive which evaluates and controls the risks of substances known to be in the environment (793/93), that concerned with pollution of the aquatic environment (76/464/EEC) and it is listed as a "priority hazardous substance" under the Water Framework Directive. At an international level, it is recommended that the use of OPs be phased out under the OSPAR Convention and it is listed as a substance for priority action under the Helsinki Convention, which protect the marine environments of the north-east Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea respectively.