Building Materials Watch List 5: Alkylphenols Found in Building Cleaning Products, Fire Retardants, Coatings and Thermoplastics

  • Alkylphenols are easily soluble and end up in our waterways.
  • Alkylphenols bioaccumulate (become concentrated inside the bodies of living things) and have been shown to cause endocrine (hormone) disruption in fish and birds.
  • South Africa has no specific regulation regarding Alkylphenols.

Alkylphenols are a family of organic compounds obtained by the alkylation of phenols and used in a wide variety of building products. Phenol is defined as a mildly acidic, toxic white crystalline solid obtained from coal tar used in chemical manufacture. In diluted form (under the name carbolic )it is used as a disinfectant or detergent.

Specifically, Alkylphenols can be found in building cleaning products, coatings, adhesives, paints, fire retardants, rubber and thermoplastics. It is also used as an additive to fuel. The most harmful is alkylphenol ethoxylates (APE’s) and Octylphenols (OPE’s) which are easily soluble and end up in our waterways. Both bioaccumulate (become concentrated inside the bodies of living things) and have been shown to cause endocrine (hormone) disruption in fish and birds.

In South Africa, these compounds are ubiquitous in the environment and are currently of concern because of their toxicity, oestrogenic properties and widespread contamination. Human exposure to alkylphenols may be through contaminated foods such as fish, poultry and drinking water. It could also be through contaminated indoor and outdoor air quality.

The USA and the European Union have set minimum standards regarding the count of Alkylphenols in their waterways, rivers and dams. South Africa does not have any policy in place regulating Alkylphenols yet studies show that in certain river systems like the Jukskei, we have levels higher than the European Union (EU) set levels for the protection of the aquatic environment.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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Green Building Africa promotes the need for net carbon zero buildings and cities in Africa. We are fiercely independent and encourage outlying thinkers to contribute to the #netcarbonzero movement. Climate change is upon us and now is the time to react in a more diverse and broader approach to sustainability in the built environment. We challenge architects, property developers, urban planners, renewable energy professionals and green building specialists. We also challenge the funding houses and regulators and the role they play in facilitating investment into green projects. Lastly, we explore and investigate new technology and real-time data to speed up the journey in realising a net carbon zero environment for our children.

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