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Drinking Water Contamination Studies Discussed at Meeting of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Scientists

Drinking Water Contamination Studies Discussed at Meeting of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Scientists

Hundreds of pharmaceutical, other chemical, CAFO studies presented and discussed at SETAC annual meeting

Drinking Water Contamination Studies Discussed at Meeting of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Scientists

Charlotte-Mecklenburg's primary drinking water reservoir after the water is withdrawn from Mountain Island Lake. Both before and after it is treated, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals remain in the water.

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry held its 34th annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, at the end of November.  University scientists and governmental agencies presented hundreds of research projects, many of which focused on water contamination.

One of the most publicized studies was one involving treated drinking water, which was shown to still have a plethora of chemicals.  The USEPA/USGS project, titled "What’s in your water? Chemical and microbial contaminants of emerging concern in source water and treated drinking water of the US," analyzed samples of treated water from 25 utilities nationwide.  Treated drinking water from at least nine (36%) of the utilities contained 21 chemicals, 18 of which are unregulated.  Even at low concentrations, long-term low-level exposure can cause major health problems.

While there are thousands upon thousands of chemicals of concern, the study targeted 251 "contaminants of emerging concern" (CECs), including pharmaceuticals, perfluorinated chemicals, hormones, wastewater indicators, trace elements, bacteria, protozoa and viruses.  Of these, 134 were detected at least once.  Twenty-one were found in water from more than one-third of the 25 utilities (nine or more) and 113 were found in less than one-third (eight or fewer).

These chemicals often cause cancer, disease, endocrine disruption, and various disorders, especially in children.  The perfluorinated chemicals (i.e., PFOS and PFOA), which were found most often, come from sources like nonstick coatings (including food packaging) and have been detected in the bloodstream of almost all Americans.  Only activated carbon appears to filter these.

Everything from tramadol (a painkiller) to DEET (bug repellent) to caffeine was detected in treated drinking water.  This study should remind us of two key facts: there is no single machine/method to detect every element and molecule (and their concentrations), and our drinking water treatment systems miss a lot.  This is all the more reason to be conscious of what is flushed or put down the drain.  Our medicine drops keep thousands of pounds of pharmaceuticals out of waterways.

The following studies looked at similar water contaminant issues, although all of the abstracts are interesting studies (you can see the entire book of abstracts here; numbers included for indexing):

  • 286 You are what you eat: Bioavailability and consequences of antimicrobials in two species of wild birds exposed to municipal biosolids
    A study looking at triclocarban and triclosan (used in soaps) getting into birds via sludge.
  • 436 Anatomical, Behavioral, and Molecular Responses of Minnows
    Exposed to Pharmaceuticals Using Field and Laboratory Approaches

  • 638 Impact of Animal Feedlot Operations on Receiving Streams:
    Larval Fish Survival, Growth and Behavior under Laboratory Rearing

    Non-point source contamination, like what The Riverkeeper is looking at with poultry CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).


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