[Pharmwaste] sweeteners linger in groundwater - article

Tenace, Laurie Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us
Tue May 26 11:28:59 EDT 2009

http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/05/22/artificial-sweetener.html - there is
more at the web site - Laurie

Sweeteners Linger in Groundwater
>From Cup to Drain | Discovery News Video May 22, 2009 -- After tickling the
tongue, artificial sweeteners pass through our bodies and end up in
wastewater virtually unchanged. Some sweeteners are particularly widespread
in the environment, according to a new study, making them ideal markers for
following pollution from treatment plants and other sources into the

"Groundwater can be polluted by several sources, and it's sometimes not clear
where that pollution comes from," said Ignaz Buerge, an environmental chemist
at the Swiss Federal Research Station in Schloss. "We now have a marker of
domestic wastewater which can be used in tracing pollution."

Contaminated groundwater is both an environmental and public health issue.
Once run-off gets into the environment, though, it can be hard to know
whether it came from industry, agricultural fields, traffic, homes or other
sources. Scientists have been looking for marker molecules that might help
them track down and possibly reduce some of these inputs.

Previous candidates for markers have included caffeine, pharmaceuticals and
components of personal care products. Most of these chemicals, however,
either break down quickly, appear in quantities too small to easily detect,
or seep out of the water and into the soil. 

Buerge and colleagues wondered if artificial sweeteners might work. People
consume large quantities of them, for one thing. And previous work suggested
that the chemicals pass through the human body unchanged and end up in
untreated wastewater. 

The scientists collected both treated and untreated samples from 10
wastewater treatment plants. They also collected urban groundwater, tap
water, and water from four rivers and eight lakes near Zurich and from a
remote alpine lake. 

In each sample, the researchers looked for evidence of four sweeteners:
Acesulfame K, saccharin, sucralose, and cyclamate. All four are commonly used
in the United States except cyclamate, which is banned.

Results, published in Environmental Science & Technology, found evidence of
all four sweeteners in untreated wastewater. In treated water, 90 percent of
saccharine and 99 percent of cyclamate were eliminated. Sucralose endured,
but concentrations were small. 

When it came to acesulfame, a significant amount survived the treatment
process unharmed. The scientists measured the equivalent of 10 milligrams per
person per day of the sweetener in untreated waters, Buerge said, and the
same concentrations in treated waters, which often ended up in lakes and

"These concentrations are astronomically high," said Bruce Brownawell, an
environmental chemist at Stony Brook University in New York. "If I had to
guess, this is the highest concentration of a compound that goes through
sewage treatment plants without being degraded." 

Laurie Tenace
Environmental Specialist
Waste Reduction Section
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2600 Blair Stone Rd., MS 4555
Tallahassee FL 32399-2400
P: 850.245.8759
F: 850.245.8811
Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us 

Mercury: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/waste/categories/mercury/default.htm 

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