Summit County: Emerging contaminants

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From the Summit Daily News (Bob Berwyn):

“This is turning into the next big issue for water treatment plants,” said local water quality expert Lane Wyatt. With new, extra-sensitive monitoring equipment, agencies like the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey have been able to detect trace amounts of various substances — including Viagra and ibuprofen — that may be adversely affecting fish. Scientists also are concerned that a build-up of antibiotics in the environment could eventually lead to a significant impact on a massive scale, with changes to the way naturally occurring bacteria process vast quantities of biomass like dead wood, recycling the material into nutrients. Wyatt said the Colorado Division of Wildlife has been finding hermaphroditic trout in some Colorado rivers. Research in other areas suggests that the chemicals are starting to accumulate in the food chain. Studies from Sweden show that some of the pollutants are starting to show up in breast milk…

The issue is so new that there currently are no water-quality standards to address the new class of contaminants, Wyatt said. Upgrading water treatment plants to remove the chemicals is likely to be expensive. Keeping the pollutants out of the water in the first place could help address the problem…

Wyatt said local waters were tested with the new equipment in recent weeks to get some baseline data on the emerging contaminants. Similarly, local residents had a chance to fill out a mail-in survey on the same topic in the past few weeks in advance of publicizing the prescription drug take-back. EPA officials said they wanted to get an idea of how much the public knows about the subject before launching an education push. “This hasn’t been done in very many places,” said the EPA’s Jean Mackenzie, who is also coordinating an interagency effort to clean up pollution at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine. She said many of the emerging pollutants act as pseudo-estrogen, leading an increased incidence of inter-sex fish. “We need to keep them out of the water because treatment is not set up to take them out,” she said.

More water pollution coverage here.

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