Contaminants are increasingly being detected in surface waters, such as streams, lakes, and estuaries. A recent study led by researchers at Portland State, including our own Angela Strecker, examined oysters from two Oregon estuaries (Coos and Netarts Bay) and detected a slurry of different contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, PCBs, and mercury. Many of these contaminants were found in oysters from both the more urban Coos Bay and the more rural Netarts Bay, indicating they are widespread.
Another recent study by researchers at the USGS found that pharmaceuticals are widely distributed in wadeable streams in the southeastern US. While pharmaceutical contamination was positively linked with urbanization, many pharmaceuticals were pervasive and found in streams across diverse landscapes. For instance, a diabetes medication (metformin) was found in 57 of the 59 streams. The study also found that multiple pharmaceuticals were present within each site, which could interact with each other to uniquely affect stream organisms.
These studies indicate that our waters face a cocktail of contaminants, which are sourced not only from wastewater, but also from non-point sources such as runoff, spills, and deposition. These contaminants have implications for the ecology of these systems as well as human health. Further monitoring in conjunction with improved policy and management are needed to protect these important waters.