On Friday, May 11, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) issued a notice that it is considering listing laundry detergent that includes nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) as a “priority product” under its Safer Consumer Products regulations. If DTSC finalizes a rule listing the product, it will kick off an alternatives assessment process, during which manufacturers, sellers, importers, and distributors of the product will have to evaluate alternatives to the use of NPE, and which may result in DTSC concluding that NPE in laundry detergent should be phased out and replaced with a “safer” alternative. Regardless, the alternatives assessment process is a time-consuming and cost-intensive process, and will be subject to a lot of scrutiny from DTSC and third parties.

NPEs are a class of surfactants with numerous applications, and while many manufacturers have reformulated to remove NPEs, some laundry detergents still contain them. According to DTSC, when they are washed down drains, NPEs and their degradation products can persist in the aquatic environment and harm fish and aquatic invertebrates, impairing wildlife growth, reproduction, development, and survival.

To kick off the regulatory process, DTSC has released a draft a Product-Chemical Profile on NPEs in Laundry Detergents and is seeking public comment on the draft profile. DTSC also will host a workshop on June 11, 2018, to receive public input.