Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Research Projects - Emerging Contaminants
Anthropogenic compounds, such as human hormones, human and veterinary antibiotics, and disinfectants, are being delivered to streams and rivers from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) throughout the United States. The environmental significance, including potentially harmful effects to humans and wildlife, is a topic of intense investigation. One aspect of this issue is to understand the persistence of these compounds in aquatic environments, including understanding the environmental conditions that lead to their degradation or persistence. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists are conducting research to document the potential for biodegradation of several emerging contaminant chemicals, such as caffeine, hormones, antibiotics, antimicrobial disinfectants, and other chemicals found in the effluent discharged from WWTPs. The scientists are conducting laboratory biodegradation experiments using microcosms constructed with stream sediments collected upstream and downstream of wastewater treatment plant outfalls. Radiolabled compounds are used in the microcosms so the scientists can attribute observed reaction products to the degradation of the compounds.
Bradley, P.M., Barber, L.B., Kolpin, D.W., McMahon, P.B., and Chapelle, F.H., 2007, Biotransformation of caffeine, cotinine, and nicotine in stream sediments--Implications for use as wastewater indicators: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 26, no. 6, p. 1116-1121, doi:10.1897/06-483R.1.