Chemicals flushing into sewer systems have been in the news for years. From opiates and hormones to heart medications, studies have detected a range of pollutants. Tests of sewage from hospitals have uncovered antibiotics, and investigations of sewage systems have exposed widespread illicit drug use in cities worldwide.
But now a group of water-management scientists claim that some of these studies may be making exaggerated claims, producing dramatic variation in concentration estimates or not detecting substances because of fundamental flaws in sampling protocols.
Christoph Ort, an environmental engineer at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and his colleagues looked at 87 peer-reviewed journal articles that investigated the fate of pharmaceuticals, illicit drugs and personal-care products such as cosmetics. The articles quantified the concentrations or fluxes of these compounds based on samples taken from sewers.
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Image courtesy of Andrew Emond at Under Montreal.