Contaminant Concerns

Emerging water contaminants like endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDC) and pharmaceutically active compounds have received much attention in recent years. Dennis Leeke, UL’s business manager of the Global Water Business, offered WWD Associate Editor Elizabeth Lisican an update on the current situation.

Elizabeth Lisican: What types of testing services does UL offer municipalities?
Dennis Leeke: UL offers comprehensive, certified drinking water analytical services for Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) compliance in 48 states and Puerto Rico. Additionally, UL offers services to detect a broad array of unregulated contaminants, commonly referred to as contaminants of emerging concern. UL also offers certifications that treatment chemicals and water infrastructure components such as pipes, valves, pumps and coatings used by public water supplies meet applicable ANSI standards for health effects.

Lisican: Does UL have any recently updated testing methods to report?
Leeke:
UL announced two new methods this summer for analyzing emerging contaminants: L222 and S190. L222 streamlined and consolidated existing in-house methods (L200, L211, L220 and L221) used for the analysis of nearly 30 of the most frequently studied and detected EDCs and pharmaceutical and personal care products. S190 streamlines the analysis of selected semi-volatile organic compounds, including sterols, phosphate flame retardants, fragrances, phenols and pesticides. The methods increase the options to public water supplies for monitoring contaminants of emerging concern.

Lisican: Please explain some contaminants of emerging concern and why they should be on the radar of the wastewater treatment industry.
Leeke: Many emerging contaminants such as EDCs and pharmaceutically active compounds are thought to enter the environment through excretion, bathing and the disposal of medications in sewers and septic tanks, trash and landfill runoff. These compounds tend to dissolve easily in water and do not evaporate at normal temperatures and pressures. These compounds are of concern in drinking water as, one, they are designed to interact with cellular receptors at low concentrations to induce specific biological effects. Any potential side effects on human health are poorly understood. Two, they have been detected in wastewater treatment plant effluent, surface water and groundwater as well as drinking water. Three, conventional water treatment systems are not specifically engineered or equipped to remove these compounds and their removal efficacy is largely unknown.

The most commonly detected compounds (detected in over 20% of the samples analyzed by UL) include:

  • Caffeine (coffee, tea, soda);
  • Nicotine (tobacco products);
  • DEET (insect repellent)
  • Carbamazapine (mood stabilizer)
  • Continine (metabolite of nicotine);
  • Estrone (estrogen hormone, birth control medication);
  • Gemfibrozil (cholesterol-lowering drug);
  • Galazolide (synthetic fragrance used in cosmetics, cleaners and perfumes); and
  • Paraxanthine (metabolite of caffeine).

Lisican: How is UL working to keep up with both the research on the contaminants and the analytical technologies?
Leeke:
It is important to note that these compounds are generally being detected in the low parts-per-trillion range, which are extremely low concentrations, and it is only due to advancements in analytical technologies that we are now able to detect these compounds at the levels they are occurring.

UL is one of the few laboratories in the nation that has both invested in the analytical equipment needed and developed methods to quantify these compounds at these levels. UL also participates in the EPA’s [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] Unregulated Monitoring Rules and is currently validating methods for the upcoming UCMR3.

Dennis Leeke is business manager for UL Global Water Business. Leeke can be reached at dennis.j.leeke@us.ul.com or 574.472.5501.

Elizabeth Lisican is associate editor of Water & Wastes Digest. Lisican can be reached at elisican@sgcmail.com or 847.391.1012.

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