Ethanol in freshwater and marine water

​Toxicant default guideline values for protecting aquatic ecosystems

October 2000

Extracted from Section 8.3.7 ‘Detailed descriptions of chemicals’ of the ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) guidelines.

The default guideline values (previously known as ‘trigger values’) and associated information in this technical brief should be used in accordance with the detailed guidance provided in the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality.

Description of chemical

Ethyl alcohol (CAS 64-17-5) or ethanol is a very common aliphatic alcohol formed by fermentation processes and is the basis of all alcoholic beverages. It is also a basic industrial and domestic solvent and a starting chemical for a wide range of chemical syntheses (e.g. esterification).

It is volatile, completely miscible in water and has a very low log Kow (–0.31). It would be transient in any flowing waterways but large inputs can contribute to severe depression of dissolved oxygen.

Aquatic toxicology

(Figures are in mg/L; x 1000 µg/L.)

Freshwater fish: five species, 48 to 96-hour LC50, 1350 to 14,000 mg/L (1.35 to 14.00 g/L).

Freshwater crustaceans: two species, 48-hour EC50, 880 to 9300 mg/L. Chronic 7-day no observed effect concentration (NOEC), Ceriodaphnia dubia 2 mg/L (mortality) and 9.6 to 16.0 mg/L (reproduction); 9-day NOEC, Daphnia magna, 9.6 mg/L (mortality) and 9.6 to 16.0 mg/L (reproduction).

Freshwater ciliate: one species, Tetrahymena pyriformis, 48-hour EC50 (growth and population growth), 12,000 mg/L (12 g/L).

Marine fish: one species, Alburnus alburnus, 96-hour LC50, 11,000 mg/L (11 g/L).



Marine diatoms: 5-day NOEC (biomass and population growth), 3240 to 5400 mg/L.


A freshwater moderate reliability trigger value of 1400 µg/L was derived using the statistical distribution method with 95% protection and an acute-to-chronic ratio (ACR) of 1260.

A marine low reliability trigger value of 1400 µg/L was adopted from the freshwater figure (in preference to quantitative structure activity relationship [QSAR] estimates, to ensure protection of the crustacean). This figure should only be used as an indicative interim working level.


ANZECC & ARMCANZ 2000. Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality, Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council and Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand, Canberra.​