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The ecotoxicity of the substances of the AE category was assessed in a weight of evidence approach based on the grouping of substances (category approach). The approach combined experimental results, obtained for representative substances, and data derived by QSAR calculations to assess the aquatic toxicity of the category substances. The QSAR models for alcohol ethoxylates were developed based on literature data and experimental results obtained for the selected representative substances (Wind & Belanger, 2006; Boeije et al., 2006; Belanger et al, 2006).

The ecotoxicity of the AE substances is induced by a non-specific mode of action. Alcohol ethoxylates act by non-polar narcosis caused by a penetration of the cell membrane. Substances with longer hydrocarbon chains can penetrate the cell membrane more effectively and thus are more toxic (Boeije et al. 2006; HERA, 2009). This correlation is also evident from the available data set. There is a clear positive correlation between the alkyl chain length and the ecotoxicity of the category substances. This regular pattern is apparent for both, the acute and chronic toxicity data, and applies to all alcohol ethoxylates irrespective of saturation degree or branching of the alkyl chain.