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“Dosing the Coast: Leaking Sewage Infrastructure Delivers Large Annual Doses and Dynamic Mixtures of Pharmaceuticals to Urban Rivers” Environmental Science & Technology
Pharmaceutical compounds can harm the environment. However, in waterways that don’t receive treated wastewater, these pollutants aren’t expected to be present. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology have found that amounts of some medications carried by a stream in Baltimore were substantial, despite generally low concentrations over the course of a year. Because wastewater plants don’t impact this stream, the high loads are likely coming from leaking sewer pipes, they say.
Thousands of medications are approved for human use in the U.S., and many of them are harmful to microorganisms, algae and insects when they make their way into lakes and streams through wastewater. The concentrations of pharmaceutical compounds are usually used to determine their impact on organisms living in streams and rivers. However, contaminant concentrations may change quickly from one day to the next, and so singular snapshots do not correctly illustrate their cumulative effects on aquatic life. Instead, load — the mass of a pollutant that passes through a stream or river over time — better represents the risks to downstream environments, where the contaminants end up. While loads are used in regulations for traditional pollutants, such as nutrients, they have not been considered for pharmaceuticals. So, Megan Fork and colleagues wanted to get an idea of the yearly load of medicines transported by an urban stream in Baltimore.