Environmental behaviour and ecotoxicity of cationic surfactants towards marine organisms


Cationic surfactants are surface-active compounds that can be found in many products, including household and cleaning agents. As a consequence, they tend to be discarded into water streams, ultimately ending up in the aquatic environment. In spite of this environmental issue, studies describing their effects towards marine species are lacking. The aim of this study was therefore to evaluate the short-term exposure effects of two commercial cationic surfactants and three novel gemini surfactants on four marine species, the green microalgae Nannochloropsis gaditana and Tetraselmis chuii, the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum, and the crustacean Anemia sauna. Furthermore, biodegradation and size distribution of the cationic surfactants in artificial seawater were also studied by UV-vis spectrophotometry and dynamic light scattering, respectively. Ecotoxicity tests revealed that the commercial cationic surfactant N-cetyl-N,N,N-trimethylammonium bromide is toxic to all tested marine species while N-dodecyl-N,N,N-trimethylammonium chloride and 1,4-bis-[N-(1-dodecyl)-/N,N-dimethylammoniummethyl]benzene dibromide showed the lowest toxicity among the tested cationic surfactants. Besides the novel insights regarding the effects caused by these five cationic surfactants, this work opens prospects for the replacement of commercially available surfactants by more environmentally friendly alternatives.



subject category

Engineering; Environmental Sciences & Ecology


Kaczerewska, O; Martins, R; Figueiredo, J; Loureiro, S; Tedim, J

our authors


O. Kaczerewska has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 792945 (EcoGemCoat).; R. Martins was hired under the Scientific Employment Stimulus Individual Call (CEECIND/01329/2017), funded by national funds (OE), through FCT, in the scope of the framework contract foreseen in the numbers 4, 5 and 6 of the article 23, of the Decree-Law 57/2016, of August 29, changed by Law 57/2017, of July 19.; J. Figueiredo was awarded with a grant (BI/UI50/8183/2018) from the research project SMARTAQUA (MARTERA/0004/2017, MarTERA, ERA-NET-H2020).; Thanks are also due for the financial support to CESAM-Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies (UID/AMB/50017/2019). This work was also developed within the scope of the project CICECO-Aveiro Institute of Materials, UIDB/50011/2020 & UIDP/50011/2020, financed by national funds through the FCT/MEC and when appropriate co-financed by FEDER under the PT2020 Partnership Agreement.; This project was also carried out in the framework of the bilateral project Exposure and bioaccumulation assessment of anti-fouling nanomaterials in marine organisms from temperate and tropical waters funded by FCT and CAPES (ref. 4265 DRI/FCT).

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