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Movement of Estrogen and Other Emerging Contaminants Through the Water Environment

This Manure du jour session focuses on Emerging Contaminants that migrate from animal- and other agricultural operations and households – WHAT they are, HOW they move through the environment, and the research and best practices for reducing the likelihood of environmental releases of chemicals that have huge implications for stream health and human health. This webinar was held March 25, 2010.

Speakers: Jim Clark is a water resources educator in Cooperative Extension’s Central Region and serving McKean and Potter Counties.  He has worked extensively to develop pharmaceutical/medical waste pick-up programs in conjunction with partnering conservation districts and has collaborated on research within the Allegheny River basin.  Jack Watson is a professor in Penn State’s Department of Crop & Soil Sciences and is conducting research related to the movement of estrogen through the environment.  Joining Jim and Jack is Deno De Ciantis, Director of the Penn State Center at Pittsburgh as the moderator for this session.  Deno is collaborating with Jack on emerging contaminant research.

The topic this week is of increasing interest for Pennsylvania practitioners charged with the protection of water quality.  Emerging contaminants (see definition below )include pharmaceuticals, hormones, and organic wastes and can migrate by  many different mechanisms through soils, groundwater, and surface waters.  Activities on the landscape, by way of agricultural as well as household practices, result in these chemicals being flushed through drains to wastewater treatment plants or septic systems, or simply passing through animal systems with the potential for impacts to aquatic life, human health, and all other life tied to ground- and surface drinking water sources.


What are emerging contaminants?  The term “emerging contaminant” encompasses a wide range of compounds. Emerging contaminants are chemicals or materials that are characterized by a perceived, potential or real threat to human health or the environment or lack of published health standards. A contaminant may also be “emerging” because of the ability for it to be detected by new test methods or by the discovery of a new source or a new pathway to humans. Many pharmaceuticals and personal care products detected in the environment can be considered emerging contaminants since they lack published health standards. However, the word “emerging” used in the context of contaminants detected at low levels in water should not be confused with the word “emergency” or be taken to mean that such detection is cause for alarm.  Some of the terms used to refer to different classes of emerging contaminants include:

  • Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs)
  • Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)
  •  Organic wastewater contaminants (OWCs)
  •  Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
  •   Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs)
  •  Microconstituents
  •  Nanomaterials