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GLIN==> USGS Releases First Nationwide Look At Pharmaceuticals, Hormones And OtherOrganic Contaminants In U.S. Streams

News Release
U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey

Contact: Herb Buxton, 609-771-3944, hbuxton@usgs.gov
           Butch Kinerney, 703-648-4732, bkinerney@usgs.gov

For Release:  March 13, 2002

What's in that Water?
USGS Releases First Nationwide Look At Pharmaceuticals,
Hormones And Other Organic Contaminants In U.S. Streams

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), today, unveiled the first-ever study of
pharmaceuticals, hormones and other organic waste water-related chemicals
in streams across the nation. And while the findings are significant in
their own right, the work points to the need for more research in the

Published today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the
study shows that pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic
wastewater-related chemicals have been detected at very low concentrations
in streams across the Nation. Many of the chemicals examined (81 of 95) do
not have drinking-water standards or health advisories. Measured
concentrations of compounds that do have standards or criteria rarely
exceeded any of them.

Limited information is available on the potential health effects to human
and aquatic ecosystems from low-level, long-term exposure or exposure to
combinations of these chemicals. These new data can guide future research
in these areas.

"Little is known about the environmental occurrence of many chemicals we
use to maintain and improve the quality of our daily lives," said Dr.
Robert Hirsch, USGS Associate Director for Water. "This study begins a
process of exploring the occurrence of these chemicals in our nation's
streams.  The new techniques for measuring these chemicals will be very
helpful for the many scientists who study contaminant movement, impacts on
ecosystems, and human health effects."

The USGS study found that chemicals used in households, agriculture, and
industry can enter the environment through a variety of wastewater sources,
according to Dana Kolpin, a USGS research hydrologist and head of this
national study. Those compounds include human and veterinary drugs
(including antibiotics), natural and synthetic hormones, detergents,
plasticizers, insecticides and fire retardants.

The most frequently detected compounds included:
  coprostanol (fecal steroid)
  cholesterol (plant and animal steroid)
  N-N-diethyltoluamide (insect repellant)
  caffeine (stimulant)
  triclosan (antimicrobial disinfectant)
  tri (2-chloroethyl) phosphate (fire retardant)
  4-nonylphenol (detergent metabolite).

"Overall, steroids, non-prescription drugs and a chemical found in insect
repellants were the chemical groups most frequently detected," Kolpin said.
"Detergent metabolites, steroids and plasticizers were generally measured
at higher concentrations than the other chemical groups, but concentrations
measured in this study generally were very low (less than 1

In addition, this study found that wastewater chemicals often mixed in the
streams sampled. In half the streams sampled, seven or more compounds were
detected and in one stream, 38 chemicals were present in a single water

As part of this study, new laboratory methods were developed in five USGS
research laboratories, providing the ability to measure the concentrations
of 95 wastewater-related chemicals in water samples. During 1999 and 2000,
a network of 139 streams in 30 states were sampled and analyzed for the
presence of these chemicals. The streams drain watersheds of varied
climate, geology, land use, and size. Most sites were located downstream of
areas of intense urbanization and livestock activity, where wastewater is
known or suspected to enter the streams.

Because this study is the first to explore the occurrence of these
chemicals in the United States, the sites were selected based on where the
chemicals are most likely to occur.  Thus, this reconnaissance study sets
the stage for future studies that can answer questions such as: how far
downstream from their sources do these chemicals remain present in the
stream, how do the concentrations of these chemicals vary as a function of
factors such as climate, land use, flow rates, or waste characteristics or
treatment methods.

The paper "Pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic wastewater
contaminants in U.S. streams, 1999-2000: A national reconnaissance" can be
found in the March 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, or on
the web at: http://toxics.usgs.gov/regional/emc.html.

The water-quality data from this study will be available in a companion
report "Water-quality data for pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic
wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, 1999-2000", USGS Open-File Report
02-94 on the internet at http://toxics.usgs.gov/.

This investigation was conducted as part of the USGS Toxic Substances
Hydrology Program. As the Nation's science agency for natural resources,
hazards and the environment, the USGS is committed to meeting the health,
safety and knowledge needs of the changing world around us.


This press release and in-depth information about USGS programs may be
found on the USGS web page: http://www.usgs.gov. To receive the latest USGS
news releases automatically by email, send a request to
listproc@listserver.usgs.gov. Specify the listserver(s) of interest from
the following names: water-pr: geologic-hazards-pr; biological-pr;
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Karen Wood
Public Affairs Specialist
U.S. Geological Survey, Office of Communications
Fax: 703-648-4466
Email: kwood@usgs.gov

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