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Personal care pollution found in US waterways

By Simon Pitman , 26-Mar-2009
Last updated on 26-Mar-2009 at 18:43 GMT

A new study from the Baylor University shows that fish samples from US waterways are frequently showing up with personal care product residues

Working with the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the team of university scientists said they detected low-level residues of several human medications, as well as personal care products, which were collected from fish found in effluent-dominated areas.

The study follows on from a pledge by the EPA made in August last year to further investigate the effects that pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) have on the nation's waterways, and the first results of a long-term pilot study.

“While the study found the residue of several pharmaceutical and personal care products in fish tissue, it also demonstrates for the first time that fish from several locations across the country are exposed to multiple PPCPs in effluent-dominated waterways,” said Dr. Bryan Brooks, associate professor at Baylor University.

Testing for 12 personal care compounds

In total the scientists tested for 36 different compounds in fish samples sourced at effluent-dominated waterways – 24 originating form medicines and 12 originating from personal care products.

Of this total, the scientists found the residues of two compounds from personal care products and seven compounds commonly found in pharmaceutical products.

The two personal care compounds were galaxolide and tonalide, both fragrances that are used in a wide variety of soaps and other personal care products.

Highest residue levels were from cosmetics

However, of concern to both environmentalists and the personal care industry alike, was the fact that of all the compounds tested, these two were found to in the highest concentrations.

Although the scientists say the impact of all these compounds has on the fish is not fully understood, they do stress that there is documented evidence to suggest they lead to changes in behavioral patterns that influence fish survival.

The study has been designed to underline how US waterways and aquatic systems regularly receive effluent discharges from wastewater treatment plants, which can sometimes dominate and pollute the water.

Guidelines fo PPCP pollution do not exist

Likewise, the study also draws attention that, although Federal standards for treated water exist, no guidelines or federal testing standards exist for pharmaceutical or most personal care products in wastewater despite the fact that the effects in surface waters are not well understood.

Last year another study carried out on behalf of the Environmental Working Group (EWG ) claimed that 95 percent of the waterways in the San Francisco Bay area are contaminated with hormone disrupting substances that can be traced to personal care products.

The EWG results of the report state that 18 out of the 19 wastewater samples that were examined contained trace levels of at least one of the three substances concerned - phthalates, bisphenol A and triclosan.

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