Last Wednesday this press release came
out of the U.S. Geological
Survey's Toxic Substances Hydrology Program. In
his FY03 budget President
Bush proposes to eliminate funding for this program.
USGS Releases First Nationwide Look At
Pharmaceuticals, Hormones And
Other Organic Contaminants In U.S. Streams
Report available at: http://toxics.usgs.gov/regional/emc.html
The U.S. Geological
Survey (USGS), today, unveiled the first-ever study
of pharmaceuticals, hormones and other organic
waste water-related chemicals
in streams across the nation. And while the findings are significant in their own right, the work points
to the need for more research
in the future.
Published today in the
journal Environmental Science & Technology, the
study shows that pharmaceuticals, hormones, and
other organic wastewater-related
chemicals have been detected at very low concentrations in streams across the Nation.
Many of the chemicals
examined (81 of 95) do not have drinking-water
standards or health advisories. Measured concentrations of compounds
that do have standards
or criteria rarely exceeded any of them.
is available on the potential health effects to
human and aquatic ecosystems from low-level, long-term
exposure or exposure
to combinations of these chemicals. These new data can
guide future research
in these areas.
"Little is known
about the environmental occurrence of many chemicals we
use to maintain and improve the quality of our
daily lives," said Dr. Robert Hirsch, USGS Associate Director for Water.
"This study begins a
process of exploring the occurrence of these chemicals
in our nation's streams. The new techniques for measuring these
chemicals will be very
helpful for the many scientists who study contaminant
movement, impacts on ecosystems, and human health effects."
The USGS study found
that chemicals used in households, agriculture, and
industry can enter the environment through a variety
of wastewater sources,
according to Dana Kolpin, a USGS research hydrologist
and head of this
national study. Those compounds include human and veterinary
drugs (including antibiotics), natural and synthetic
hormones, detergents, plasticizers, insecticides and fire
The most frequently
detected compounds included: coprostanol (fecal
steroid) cholesterol (plant and animal steroid)
repellant) caffeine (stimulant) triclosan (antimicrobial disinfectant) tri (2-chloroethyl) phosphate
(fire retardant) 4-nonylphenol
non-prescription drugs and a chemical found in
insect repellants were the chemical groups most
frequently detected," Kolpin said. "Detergent metabolites, steroids
and plasticizers were
generally measured at higher concentrations than
the other chemical groups, but concentrations measured in this
study generally were very
low (less than 1 part-per-billion)."
In addition, this study
found that wastewater chemicals often mixed in
the streams sampled. In half the streams sampled,
seven or more compounds
were detected and in one stream, 38 chemicals were present
in a single water
As part of this study,
new laboratory methods were developed in five
USGS research laboratories, providing the ability
to measure the concentrations
of 95 wastewater-related chemicals in water samples. During 1999 and 2000, a network of 139 streams
in 30 states were sampled
and analyzed for the presence of these chemicals.
The streams drain watersheds of varied climate, geology, land
use, and size. Most sites
were located downstream of areas of intense urbanization
and livestock activity, where wastewater is known or suspected
to enter the streams.
Because this study is
the first to explore the occurrence of these
chemicals in the United States, the sites were
selected based on where
the chemicals are most likely to occur. Thus, this
reconnaissance study sets
the stage for future studies that can answer questions
such as: how far
downstream from their sources do these chemicals remain
present in the stream, how do the concentrations of these
chemicals vary as a function
of factors such as climate, land use, flow rates, or waste characteristics or treatment methods.
The paper "Pharmaceuticals,
hormones, and other organic wastewater
contaminants in U.S.
streams, 1999-2000: A national reconnaissance" can be found in the March 15 issue of Environmental
Science & Technology, or
on the web at: http://toxics.usgs.gov/regional/emc.html.
The water-quality data
from this study will be available in a companion
report "Water-quality data for pharmaceuticals,
hormones, and other organic
wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, 1999-2000",
Report 02-94 on the internet at http://toxics.usgs.gov/.
This investigation was
conducted as part of the USGS Toxic Substances
Hydrology Program. As the Nation's science agency
for natural resources,
hazards and the environment, the USGS is committed
to meeting the health, safety and knowledge needs of the changing
world around us.