Biodegradation of polyalcohol ethoxylate by a wastewater microbial consortium

Sybil E. Sharvelle, Jay Garland, M. K. Banks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-221
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Biodegradation
  • Metabolism
  • Microorganisms
  • Nonionic surfactant
  • Pathway
  • Pollution
  • Trace contaminants
  • Wastewater
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Microbiology
  • Bioengineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution


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