Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (APEs) are synthetic surfactants
found in detergents, clothing, cleaning products,
pesticides, lubricants, hair dyes and other hair care
products, and even spermicides. The most common
APEs are nonylphenol ethoxylates.
Studies have linked APEs in waterways and aquatic
sediments to altered reproduction, feminization,
hermaphrodism, and lower survival rates in salmon
and other fish. These effects have been observed
even at low levels, which mean that it takes relatively
little APE pollution to create big problems. Unfortunately
APEs are robust and do not readily biodegrade into simpler,
less harmful compounds. Instead, when they’re
washed down the drain—which is their ultimate destination
 given the products they’re found in—they’re able to enter the environment and persist for long periods of time.
In addition to being persistent, APEs are also bioaccumulative.
This means that once they enter a living organism—
whether it’s a fish or a person—they tend to accumulate
in its tissues over time. This explains why APEs like
nonylphenol ethoxylates have been detected in human
blood and breast milk.
This is of particular concern as many APEs have been
shown to mimic estrogen and are strongly suspected
 of causing endocrine disruption. Both the nonylphenol
and octylphenol forms have been found to cause breast
cancer cells to multiply in the lab. Other studies have
found smaller testicles and decreased sperm counts in
animals whose mothers were exposed to octylphenol in
the womb. APEs may also play a role in immune system
All of this makes APEs a good thing to avoid. But
 they’re hard to spot because they’re rarely listed on
the ingredients panels of household products like cleaners,
detergents, and pesticides. Consumers will have
limited success
looking for indicators like chemicals whose names end
 in “–phenol ethoxylate.”
A more effective strategy is to consult online databases
that list ingredients by name like the National Library
of Medicine’s Household Products Database. For
details on ingredients in personal care products, there’s
 the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics


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