The Government of Canada conducted a science-based evaluation of the Alkyl Sulfates and α-Olefin Sulfonate Group, called a screening assessment, to address the potential for harm to Canadians and to the environment.
Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), the risk posed by a substance is determined by considering both its hazardous properties (its potential to cause adverse human health or ecological effects) and the amount of exposure there is to people or to the environment. A substance may have hazardous properties; however, the risk to human health or to the environment may be low depending upon the level of exposure.
The substances in the Alkyl Sulfates and α-Olefin Sulfonate Group may be associated with human health and/or ecological effects; however, as a result of this screening assessment, it was found that the risk posed by these 4 substances is low at current levels of exposure. Therefore, it is concluded that these substances are not harmful to human health or to the environment.
The 4 substances addressed in this screening assessment are triethanolamine (TEA) lauryl sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, and sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate.
These substances do not occur naturally in the environment.
Industry data collected by the Government indicates that all substances, with the exception of TEA lauryl sulfate, are manufactured in Canada in quantities greater than 100 kilograms, and all substances are imported into Canada.
Substances in the Alkyl Sulfates and α-Olefin Sulfonate Group are primarily found in cleaning products (for example, laundry, dishwashing and household products) and in other products available to consumers, such as shampoos, toothpastes, soaps and bubble bath products.
Sodium lauryl sulfate can also be found in food packaging materials and is an approved food additive with a limited number of permitted uses in a small number of food categories.
Exposure of Canadians and the environment
Canadians may be exposed to these substances through drinking water and from use of products available to consumers, such as cosmetics, non-prescription drugs, natural health products, and cleaning products.
Food is not expected to be a significant source of exposure to sodium lauryl sulfate.
These substances were identified as having a low ecological exposure potential.
Key health and ecological effects (hazard)
Based on the consideration of international data, these substances are not considered to be carcinogenic (able to cause cancer), genotoxic (adversely affect genetic material), and they do not cause reproductive health effects or developmental effects.
Available information indicates that these substances may have potential adverse effects on organs, such as the liver. This was considered to be the important or “critical” effect used for characterizing the risk to human health in the assessment.
TEA lauryl sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate were identified as having low ecological hazard potential; sodium lauryl sulfate was classified as having moderate ecological hazard potential; and, sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate was identified as having high ecological hazard potential.
Risk assessment outcomes
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) developed a Screening Information Data Set Initial Assessment Report for alkyl sulfates, alkane sulfonates and α-olefin sulfonates, which informed the human health evaluation of these substances. These assessments undergo rigorous review (including peer-review) and endorsement by international governmental authorities. Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada are active participants in these processes, and the departments consider these assessments to be reliable.
Based upon a comparison of levels to which Canadians can be exposed and the levels associated with health effects, the risk to human health from these substances is low.
The ecological risk of these 4 substances was characterized using the Ecological Risk Classification of Organic Substances Approach.
Overall, there is low risk of harm to organisms and the environment from these substances.
As a result of this assessment, the Government concluded that TEA lauryl sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, and sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate are not entering the environment at levels that are harmful to the environment.
The Government also concluded that these 4 substances are not harmful to human health at current levels of exposure.
Important to know
These 4 substances may be found in certain products available to consumers. Canadians should follow any safety warnings and directions on product labels and dispose of products responsibly.
Canadians who may be exposed to these substances in the workplace can consult with their employer and an occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about safe handling practices, applicable laws and requirements under OHS legislation and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).