Summary: Sodium dodecyltriethoxy sulphate (SDTES), either pure or as a component of commercial surfactant mixtures, underwent rapid primary biodegradation by mixed bacterial cultures in OECD screen and river-water die-away tests. Inoculation of [S]SDTES-containing solutions with OECD screen test media acclimatized to surfactants or their degradation products led to production of various S-labelled glycol sulphates and their oxidation products, all known to occur during degradation of [S]SDTES by pure bacterial isolates. Triethylene glycol monosulphate was the major catabolite together with smaller amounts of di- and monoethylene glycol monosulphates implying, by analogy with pure cultures, that ether-cleavage was the major primary biodegradation step. The oxidation product (carboxylate derivative) of each glycol sulphate was also detected together with metabolites tentatively identified as Ω-/β-oxidation products of the dodecyl chain. Relatively little SO was liberated directly from SDTES but mixed cultures derived from sewage could metabolize the sulphated glycols to SO . The environmental relevance of these degradation routes was established by following metabolite production from [S]SDTES in full-scale river-water die-away tests. Triethylene glycol sulphate was formed first, then rapidly oxidized to acetic acid 2-(diethoxy sulphate) which persisted as the major metabolite for 2–3 weeks. Small amounts of sulphated derivatives of di- and monoethylene glycols were also detected during the same period. Very little SO was formed directly from SDTES but large amounts accompanied the eventual disappearance of glycol sulphate derivatives. None of the S-labelled organic metabolites was persistent and, whenever [S]SDTES was a component of a commercial mixture, all ester sulphate was completely mineralized to SO within 28 d.


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