[Pharmwaste] Harmful chemicals may leach from septic systems

Tenace, Laurie Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us
Wed Aug 16 11:52:56 EDT 2006


Harmful chemicals may leach from septic systems
Tue Aug 15, 2006 11:38am ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Septic systems may not remove natural
hormone-disrupting chemicals -- like estrogen excreted in women's urine --
from wastewater before it gets into groundwater, which feeds many drinking
water supplies, according to tests conducted in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

In Cape Cod, more than 85 percent of residential and commercial properties
use septic systems.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Chris Swartz said: "We did find both natural
estrogen and alkyl phenols from detergents entering groundwater at
concentrations very similar to concentrations that have been documented in
the literature to show adverse reproductive effects in fish swimming in
rivers downstream of wastewater treatment discharges." 

Other chemicals detected in groundwater near the tested septic system include
caffeine and detergent brightening compounds.

Swartz, senior scientist at the Silent Spring Institute in Newton,
Massachusetts, said there is still "hot debate" in the Environmental
Protection Agency and among scientists in general as to whether the
concentrations of these and other chemicals that are being found in the
environment have human health implications.

"The biggest concern is for prenatal exposures, because fetuses are
exquisitely sensitive to any type of hormonal imbalances during their
development," he explained.

Swartz hopes publication of his team's findings in the August 15 issue of
Environmental Science and Technology will fuel dialogue among land use
planners and policy makers about what septic systems are and are not

"It's important to understand this if we are going to rely on septic
systems," said Swartz

Currently about 25 percent of US households and probably a larger amount
globally, Swartz noted, use on-site septic systems for household waste
treatment as opposed to public sewage treatment plants.

"And there is a US and global trend toward decentralized wastewater
treatment," Swartz said.

Prior research on septic systems have dealt only with nutrients such as
nitrogen and phosphorus that may leach from septic tanks, get into
groundwater, and eventually make it to surface body waters that the
groundwater feeds.

The current tests, Swartz said, clearly show that other chemicals, like
natural estrogens, known to interfere with human hormonal regulation, are
also getting away from septic system treatment. Future studies, he concludes,
are needed to determine the extent and potential effects of drinking water
contamination with hormone-disrupting chemicals and other potentially harmful

Laurie J. Tenace
Environmental Specialist
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2600 Blair Stone Road, MS 4555
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2400
PH: (850) 245-8759
FAX: (850) 245-8811
Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us  
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