An article published on February 3, 2018, in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, reported on the migration and reproductive toxicity of surfynol, a surfactant commonly used “in coatings, inks and adhesives employed in many food-packaging applications.” In both laboratory and ‘real-life’ exposure situations, this substance was found to cause a reduction in the fertilization capacity of mammalian sperm.

Surfynol is a mixture of a 2,4,7,9-tetramethyl-5-decyne-4,7-diol (CAS 126-86-3) monomer and its ethoxylated polymers. Surfynol-containing adhesives are often used to build multilayer plastic constructs or to glue plastics to paper. Although not applied on surfaces in direct contact with food, components of surfynol are nonetheless able to transfer to water and other food simulants in contact with multilayer plastics by migrating through the different layers.

The Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC)-based theoretical analysis suggested that this compound is of highest concern, but experimental toxicity data so far have been lacking. Here, the authors reported that boar sperm used for artificial insemination exhibited a reduced reproductive capacity after being stored in bags made of multilayer plastics containing surfynol. This impairment of male fertility could be explained by the negative effects on “motility, acrosome integrity, mitochondrial activity and penetration capacity in the cells,” along with a reduced sperm survival.

Further, quantitative proteomics analysis showed that key proteins involved in the fertilization capacity were inhibited in surfynol-exposed mammalian spermatozoa. As these proteins are involved in cytoskeleton, sperm motility, energy machinery, and antioxidative defense mechanisms, their inhibition appears to play a role in the observed reduction of spermatozoan fecundity caused by exposure to surfynol.

The authors concluded that their findings “open up new and interesting perspectives for the study of reprotoxicity of different chemicals, which are common in our daily lives and probably cause many of the miscarriages and lack of male fertility occurring currently in humans in developed countries.”

The study’s lead author, Prof. Dr. Cristina Nerin, will discuss her findings in a webinar hosted by the Food Packaging Forum on March 27, 2018.


Nerin, C., et al. (2018). “A common surfactant used in food packaging found to be toxic for reproduction in mammals.Food and Chemical Toxicology 113: 115-124.