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MPCA Studies Detect Unregulated Chemicals in Lakes and Rivers

What's In Your WaterTwo studies recently released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) confirm that a wide variety of unregulated chemicals have been detected in Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. The chemicals include pharmaceuticals and personal care products, both of which may have properties that can interfere with the functioning of hormones in animals and people. The 2010 and 2012 studies provide statistical evidence of just how widespread the chemicals are in Minnesota’s surface waters.

“What these studies really are measuring is the footprint of our society and how we live,” said MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine. “Our lakes and rivers are reflecting the chemicals we use and put into our bodies. These chemicals have very beneficial uses, but unfortunately, they tend to stick around in the environment after their first use.”

For the "lakes" study, 50 lakes were randomly selected across Minnesota. Samples were collected and analyzed for 125 chemicals. The study included analysis of so-called “endocrine-active compounds” (EACs). They are known as EACs because they mimic or interfere with the actions of naturally occurring hormones. These chemicals can have adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems and fish. Many of the chemicals in the MPCA studies were detected at very small concentrations, in the low parts per trillion. Such levels are of concern because EACs have the potential to adversely affect fish and other aquatic organisms even at extremely low levels.

The MPCA says the results of the lake study were generally consistent with findings of previous but smaller studies that found commonly used chemicals widely distributed in Minnesota lakes. The insect repellent DEET was found in 76 percent of the lakes sampled, making it the most frequently detected chemical. Chemicals not previously analyzed – including cocaine, the antidepressant amitriptyline, and the veterinary antibiotic carbadox – were also often detected in the lakes.

The "rivers and streams" study analyzed 18 chemicals, including several pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and was conducted at 150 randomly selected river locations. Parabens, a family of chemicals used as preservatives for food and cosmetics, were commonly found, with methylparaben detected in over 30 percent of the samples. A breakdown product of the corrosion inhibitor benzotriazole was found in 12 percent of the samples. Carbamazepine, used in medications to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and several antidepressants were also found. 

The MPCA plans to continue testing surface waters for pharmaceuticals and EACs on a rotating five-year basis to identify any trends that may be occurring. You can access the "Pharmaceuticals and Endocrine Active Chemicals in Minnesota Lakes" and "Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Minnesota’s Rivers and Streams" reports on the MPCA's website by clicking here.

 

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