Biodegradation of Polyalcohol Ethoxylate by a Wastewater Microbial Consortium


Polyalcohol ethoxylate (PAE), an anionic surfactant, is the primary component in most laundry and dish wash detergents and is therefore highly loaded in domestic wastewater. Its biodegradation results in the formation of several metabolites and the fate of these metabolites through wastewater treatment plants, graywater recycling processes, and in the environment must be clearly understood. Biodegradation pathways for PAE were investigated in this project with a municipal wastewater microbial consortium. A microtiter-based oxygen sensor system was utilized to determine the preferential use of potential biodegradation products. Results show that while polyethylene glycols (PEGs) were readily degraded by PAE acclimated microorganisms, most of the carboxylic acids tested were not degraded. Biodegradation of PEGs suggests that hydrophobe-hydrophile scission was the dominant pathway for PAE biodegradation in this wastewater community. Ethylene glycol (EG) and diethylene glycol (DEG) were not utilized by microbial populations capable of degrading higher molecular weight EGs. It is possible that EG and DEG may accumulate. The microtiter-based oxygen sensor system was successfully utilized to elucidate information on PAE biodegradation pathways and could be applied to study biodegradation pathways for other important contaminants.

Description:7 pages


surfactant, laundry, pathway, metabolite

Date of this Version

May 2007



Publisher Identifier:

Biodegradation, 19(2), 215-22. DOI: 10.1007/s10532-007-9128-4


Springer Netherlands

ALS NSCORT Project Number

Project 6 - Bio-Regenerative Environmental Treatment for Health-air and water (BREATHe 1)

Project Lead

M. Katherine Banks




Published Materials

Administrative Contact

Dave Kotterman, dkotter@purdue.edu


Copyright 2006 Springer Netherlands. For more information please visit the publisher's home page at: http://www.springer.com


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