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Study: All kinds of nasty stuff in the water

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The water may not always be as pure as it looks.

USGS takes close look at landfill water pollution

Staff Report

FRISCO — Water quality experts with the U.S. Geological Survey say chemicals from pharmaceuticals and personal-care products are widespread in water that has passed through landfill waste.

The researchers collected samples from water that has passed through landfills, — known as leachates — from 19 sites across the country as part of a national assessment, analyzing the water for 202 chemicals across a wide range of uses, including pharmaceuticals, hygiene products, home-use chemicals, pesticides and plastics. Of those 202 chemicals, 129 were found.

“This represents the first step in USGS efforts to quantify the contribution of contaminants of emerging concern in leachate from active landfills to the environment,” said Dana Kolpin, USGS, the research team leader. “Follow-up research will examine contaminant concentrations in treated and untreated leachate that is released to the environment.”

Some of the chemicals are known to be harmful to human health, while others have also been shown to have an impact on fish, including genetic damage. In some areas, hormone-based substances have changed the sex of fish.

Traditional water treatment methods don’t address the issue of the emerging new class of contaminants, so the researchers hope their study is another step toward developing more effective treatments.

The USGS study found varied concentrations of the substances. Steroid hormone concentrations generally ranged from 1 to 100’s nanograms per liter (ng/L, or parts per trillion); prescription and nonprescription pharmaceutical concentrations generally ranged from 100 to 10,000’s ng/L; and home-use and industrial chemical concentrations generally ranged from 1,000 to 1,000,000’s ng/L.

The 19 active landfills are located all across the United States and represent a snapshot of the various conditions that affect landfills.

“As expected, we found more chemicals and generally higher concentrations in landfills from wetter regions compared to those from drier regions,” said USGS scientist Jason Masoner, the primary author of this paper. “Overall, this study provides a better understanding of sources of contaminants of emerging concern in landfills.”

Chemicals commonly detected include:

  • bisphenol A—detected in 95 percent of samples, used to make plastics and resins
  • cotinine—detected in 95 percent of samples, a chemical formed from nicotine
  • N,N-diethyltoluamide—detected in 95 percent of samples, also known as DEET
  • lidocaine—detected in 89 percent of samples, used as anti-itching and local anesthetic
  • camphor—detected in 84 percent of samples, used in a variety of medicines and lotions

This study is part of a long-term effort to determine the fate and effects of contaminants of emerging concern and to provide water-resource managers with objective information that assists in the development of effective water management practices.

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One Response

  1. Lamar Miller, former enforcement chief at the EPA, demonstrated long ago that recycling leachate from landfill would enable developers to recycle their landfills units after about five years because the landfill would pass TCLP. I wonder if recycling the leachate would do the same for the soluble chemicals in the leachate. In landfills that did not recycle leachate, newspapers remained legible after years in the landfill, and carrots remained orange inside an altered rim, thus demonstrating that “biodegradable” was a mythological term without leachate recycling.

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