Ecological Risk Analysis for Benzalkonium Chloride, Benzethonium Chloride, and Chloroxylenol in US Disinfecting and Sanitizing Products
By Miranda Henning, BCES, Managing Principal
Use of three topical antiseptic compounds—benzalkonium chloride (BAC), benzethonium chloride (BZT), and chloroxylenol (PCMX)—has recently increased because of the phaseout of other antimicrobial ingredients (such as triclosan) in soaps and other disinfecting and sanitizing products. Further, use of sanitizing products in general increased during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We assessed the environmental safety of BAC, BZT, and PCMX based on best available environmental fate and effects data from the scientific literature and privately held sources. The ecological exposure assessment focused on aquatic systems receiving effluent from wastewater-treatment plants (WWTPs) and terrestrial systems receiving land-applied WWTP biosolids. Recent exposure levels were characterized based on environmental monitoring data supplemented by modeling, while future exposures were modeled based on a hypothetical triclosan replacement scenario. Hazard profiles were developed based on acute and chronic studies examining toxicity to aquatic life (fish, invertebrates, algae, vascular plants) and terrestrial endpoints (plants, soil invertebrates, and microbial functions related to soil fertility). Risks to higher trophic levels were not assessed because these compounds are not appreciably bioaccumulative. The risk analysis indicated that neither BZT nor PCMX in any exposure media is likely to cause adverse ecological effects under the exposure scenarios assessed in the present study. Under these scenarios, total BAC exposures are at least three times less than estimated effect thresholds, while margins of safety for freely dissolved BAC are estimated to be greater than an order of magnitude. Because the modeling did not specifically account for COVID-19 pandemic–related usage, further environmental monitoring is anticipated to understand potential changes in environmental exposures as a result of increased antiseptic use. The analysis presented provides a framework to interpret future antiseptic monitoring results, including monitoring parameters and modeling approaches to address bioavailability of the chemicals of interest. Environ Toxicol Chem 2022;41:3095–3115. © 2022 The Authors. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of SETAC.
Additional authors: Phyllis Fuchsman, Kyle Fetters, Alison O’Connor, Michael Bock, Lauren Brown, Igor Mrdjen, Kathleen Stanton