Nonyl phenols 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

These chemicals are various isomers of nonyl phenol. They are breakdown products of some common surfactants and have been implicated as endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The toxicity and guidelines below do not reflect these properties, which are still under investigation.

Aquatic toxicology

Freshwater fish: one species, 96-hour LC50, 4600 µg/L.

Freshwater crustaceans: two species, 48-hour EC50 or LC50, 190 to 1200 µg/L, although an outlying figure of 14,000 µg/L was reported in one study with Daphnia magna, almost 2 orders of magnitude higher than the lowest figure from the same study. Chronic 21-day no observed effect concentration (NOEC) figures for D. magna were, for growth 39 µg/L; mortality 24 to 130 µg/L; and reproduction 24 µg/L.

Marine crustacean: one species, Mysidopsis bahia, 48-hour LC50, 1230 to 29,600 µg/L.


A freshwater low reliability trigger value of 0.1 µg/L was derived for nonyl phenol using an assessment factor (AF) of 200 on the D. magna chronic data. A marine low reliability trigger value of 1 µg/L was derived for nonyl phenol using an AF of 1000. Both figures should be used as indicative interim working levels only.


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.