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Characteristics And Environmental Fate Of The Anionic Surfactant Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulphate (SLES) Used As The Main Component In Foaming Agents For Mechanized Tunnelling.

A. Barra Caracciolo, M. Cardoni, T. Pescatore, L. Patrolecco
Published 2017 · Environmental Science, Medicine

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The anionic surfactant sodium lauryl ether sulphate (SLES) is the main component of most commercial products used for soil conditioning in the excavation industry, in particular as lubricants for mechanized tunnelling. Its use during the excavation processes can result in either the subsequent possible re-use of the huge amount of soil debris as by-products (e.g. land covering) or its discharge as waste. Currently, there are neither SLES soil threshold limits in European legislation, nor comprehensive studies on the environmental risk for soil ecosystems in these exposure scenarios. In this context, the present paper reviews the available data on the intrinsic characteristics of persistence and the ecotoxicological effects of the anionic surfactant SLES. Although SLES is generally reported to be biodegradable in standard tests, with degradation rates between 7 h and 30 days, depending on the initial conditions, data on its biodegradation in environmental studies are quite scarce. Consequently, assessing SLES biodegradation rates in field conditions is crucial for evaluating if in residual concentrations (typically in the range 40-500 mg/kg in excavated soils) it can or not be a potential hazard for terrestrial and water organisms. Laboratory ecotoxicological tests pointed out detrimental effects of SLES for aquatic organisms, while data on the terrestrial species are rather poor so far and further studies at the expected environmental concentrations are necessary. Finally, the review reports the main analytical methods available for detecting anionic surfactants in solid matrices and the future research needed to improve knowledge on the possible environmental risks posed by the use of SLES in foaming agents for mechanized tunnelling.
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