Pharmaceuticals find their way into the drinking water supply in numerous ways, including but not limited to septic systems, landfills, and fertilization.
When USGS sampled final (after storage or treatment processes) landfill leachate from 22 landfills across the country, all 190 samples tested positive for some sort of contaminant of emerging concern. Most frequently detected were bisphenol A (used in plastics, thermal paper, and epoxy resins), DEET (insect repellent), and cotinine (a transformation product of nicotine).
Additionally, PFAS, a broad name for man-made industrial chemicals that are oil and water repellent, are generally found everywhere, including in the blood of humans and wildlife. Studies associate exposure to PFOS and PFOA (the two most common types of PFAS) with high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, preeclampsia, testicular and kidney cancer, and reproductive and development effects. These chemicals are not currently federally regulated.
IL EPA recently announced that it will be developing a PFAS groundwater quality standard for Illinois and begin testing municipal water supplies statewide for PFAS compounds beginning this year.
Finally, the presentation covered microplastics and how ubiquitous they have become in water. A recent study of 29 tributaries to the Great Lakes found plastic particles in 100% of the 107 samples analyzed, and plastic fibers in 71% of the samples.
The takeaway message? Groundwater and surface waters are vulnerable to all these contaminants of emerging concern, and it is up to water users and resource managers to help prevent contamination.
For more on Contaminants of Emerging Concern
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