From Your Drain to the Minnesota Waterways: Experts Find Dozens of Contaminants

An environmental health sciences professor at the University of Minnesota decided in 2013 to investigate the chemistry of the Zumbro River. What she and her colleagues found did not surprise her, as they identified trace amounts of pesticides in the river.

They were also not shocked to find prescription drugs ranging from anti-convulsive medications to antibiotics. It was more than 15 years ago that researchers had realized that pharmaceuticals dumped down drains were slipping through wastewater treatment and back into the water supply.

But what surprised this leading expert in “emerging contaminants” was the variety of contaminants that she was finding in the water. She found caffeine that originates from everything from coffee shop drinks and energy drinks to sodas. There was also a high amount of acetaminophen that is found in headache medications and some narcotics, such as hydrocodone. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage in humans if taken in high doses. There is no evidence of what that drug can do to fish.

It is not known what the background levels mean in regards to public health and the environment. It is something that is going to be looked at in the near future.

Overall, the number of chemicals that are contaminating the environment is growing at a high rate, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, as they keep track of the waterways in America, landfills, sediments, and municipal sewage sludge that is later converted into fertilizer. They have found steroids, triclosan (banned in Minnesota), antidepressants, detergents forming a slimy layer over stones, and compounds found in birth control pills.

Where much of this originates from is individuals flushing items down their toilets or dumping them down their drains. The impact that triclosan has on the environment has forced the Minnesota legislature to ban the chemical from hand sanitizers and soaps.

Many of the items that individuals flush or pour down a drain are harmful to the plumbing and it is never recommended to flush them. For instance, flushing pills could contribute to a clog. The only thing that should be getting flushed down a toilet is toilet paper and nothing more. A person in Minneapolis or St. Paul flushing something they shouldn’t could result in a need to hire a Twin Cities drain cleaning expert to unclog the drain because doing it yourself could result in damage that could cost more to fix.

There are many chemical compounds that make their way into drains, but few of them have been shown to have negative health effects. The health effects of the few, however, can be rather devastating. There is also the fact that testing has to continue to identify chemicals because new compounds are being developed all of the time. This means that unexpected contaminants are found in the environment frequently.

While Congress hasn’t sent a new environmental law to the president in nearly two decades, there are states, such as Minnesota, that are taking matters into their own hands by banning the use of chemicals that they know are causing issues within their waterways, to their environments, and to their people.