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Streams Across the US Contain Potentially Harmful Mix of Chemical Toxins

Many waterways across America contain a varied mix of contaminants, but we currently have very little understanding of how these chemical combinations are composed or what effect they may have on both ecological and human health.

Now, a comprehensive new study funded by the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, which was recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Science & Technology, is shedding some insight, showing that these chemical mixtures are in fact much more complex than previously thought and contain chemical compounds that are potentially harmful to both aquatic life and human health.

Contaminants are being found in streams at alarming rates. Contaminants are being found in streams at alarming rates.

Earlier studies conducted by researchers at the US Geological Survey (USGS) testing waterways across America for organic contaminants, or contaminants containing carbon, revealed evidence that US streams were contaminated with a complex blend of pollutants. In the latest report, Paul M. Bradley and his colleagues have released results from a more extensive follow-up study where scientists from the USGS and EPA analyzed water samples collected from 38 different streams for the presence of 719 organic chemicals.

More than 50% of these chemical compounds were found in the stream waters tested, with each stream — even streams in pristine regions that were neither developed or inhabited — containing at least one organic compounds being tested for, with some containing as many as 162 organic contaminants. The researchers found caffeine; pesticides including glyphosate and byproducts associated with their breakdown; triclosan and other antibacterial products; and pharmaceutical products such as metformin — commonly used to treat diabetes — and antihistamines, as well as other chemical compounds.

The study revealed that certain compounds found in this mix, which are biologically active by design, often occur together in stream waters. The scientists are concerned that complex interactions between these organic compounds could potentially pose a risk to aquatic organisms and food-webs, as well as humans, and therefore warrants further research to determine the extent of the threat. They have outlined some of the biological effects they observed in these water samples in a separate research paper, also published in Environmental Science & Technology.

These two related studies highlight the consequences — both in terms of ecological and human health risks — posed by everyday contaminants entering streams and rivers. To reduce your exposure to many of the contaminants commonly found in drinking water sources, we highly recommend investing in a good quality drinking water filter that is able to remove many of these potentially harmful pollutants.

Journal Reference

Paul M. Bradley, et al. Expanded Target-Chemical Analysis Reveals Extensive Mixed-Organic-Contaminant Exposure in U.S. Streams. Environ. Sci. Technol, (April 12, 2017) DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b00012

Justin M. Conley, et al. Occurrence and In Vitro Bioactivity of Estrogen, Androgen, and Glucocorticoid Compounds in a Nationwide Screen of United States Stream Waters. Environ. Sci. Technol, (April 12, 2017) DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b06515

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