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USGS National Toxic Substances Study:

Pharmaceuticals, Hormones, and Other Organic Wastewater Contaminants in U.S. Streams, 1999-2000: A National Reconnaissance

Dana Kolpin, Edward Furlong, Michael Meyer, Michael Thurman, Steven Zaugg, Larry Barber and Herbert Buxton, USGS

The objective of this investigation is to develop information and tools on emerging water-quality issues that will be used to design and improve water-quality monitoring and assessment programs of the USGS and others, and for proactive decision-making by industry, regulators, the research community, and the public.

There are two components of the activities conducted under this investigation:
• Methods Development, and
• Field Studies.

Methods Development: Laboratory analytical methods are continually being developed that enable the analysis of new compounds in environmental samples at the low concentrations necessary to understand factors that effect contaminant occurrence, transport and fate. Initial focus has been measuring 95 unique chemicals in water. Methods development activities are planned for various environmental media (water, sediment, tissue, and air), as dictated by the potential occurrence and cycling of contaminants. These methods are being developed in mulitiple USGS research laboratories with high concern for the ability to produce reliable data. This web page will be updated as new methods are developed and published.

Field Studies: Field studies are designed to provide basic scientific information related to the occurrence and potential transport of contaminants in the environment. These studies will: provide increased understanding of various contamination sources (spills, leaks, wastewaters, waste-disposal facilities, and intended uses); identify what contaminants enter the environment, at what concentrations, and in what combinations; determine where these contaminants are occurring in the environment (e.g. water, sediment, air, tissue); determine spatial and temporal variations in contaminant concentrations; and identify contaminants that can serve as indicators of waters affected by specific types of sources. graph

One or more chemicals were detected in 80 percent of the streams sampled, and 82 of the 95 chemicals were detected at least once. Generally, these chemicals were found at very low concentrations (in most cases, less than 1 part per billion). Mixtures of the chemicals were common; 75 percent of the streams had more than one, 50 percent had 7 or more, and 34 percent had 10 or more.

The most frequently detected chemicals (found in more than half of the streams) were coprostanol (fecal steroid), cholesterol (plant and animal steroid), N-N-diethyltoluamide (insect repellent), caffeine (stimulant), triclosan (antimicrobial disinfectant), tri (2-chloroethyl) phosphate (fire retardant), and 4-nonylphenol (nonionic detergent metabolite). Steroids, nonprescription drugs, and insect repellent were the chemical groups most frequently detected. Detergent metabolites, steroids, and plasticizers generally were measured at the highest concentrations.

This study suggests that mixtures of pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other wastewater contaminants can occur at low concentrations in streams that are susceptible to various wastewater sources. It provides methodology and guidance for future monitoring and assessment of these types of environmental contaminants, and establishes the needed foundation for setting priorities for further study of sources, pathways and effects.

Future directions: Further analyses of these data, including relationships to specific source types, are ongoing. The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program is conducting research on the occurrence of organic wastewater chemicals in susceptible wells and drinking-water sources across the nation; assessments of antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria; the identification of wastewater indicators; and the development of new laboratory analytical capabilities, including sediment and fish tissue.

Division of Science, Research and Environmental Health
Dr. Gary A. Buchanan, Director
Mailing Address:
Mail code 428-01, P.O. Box 420
Trenton, NJ 0862

Phone: (609) 984-6070
Fax: (609) 292-7340