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NOAA and USGS Scientists Detect Human Use Pharmaceuticals in Chesapeake Bay

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In 2006, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science released the results of a pilot study to determine the presence of human-use pharmaceuticals in coastal waters. The results of the study, Human Use Pharmaceuticals in the Estuarine Environment: A Survey of the Chesapeake Bay, Biscayne Bay and Gulf of the Farallones, indicated a number of pharmaceuticals were present. Water samples were collected and analyzed by NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey for selected antibiotics, analgesics (painkillers), lipid (fat and cholesterol) regulators and antidepressants.

In the Chesapeake Bay, water samples were collected near the outfalls of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), in order to have the best chance of detecting the pharmaceuticals of interest. In the Chesapeake, a total of 13 compounds were detected. In the Back River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, two pharmaceuticals were detected 10 km downstream of the WWTP. In Biscayne Bay, three compounds were found in samples collected adjacent to drainage canals, and in the Gulf of Farallones two pharmaceuticals were found.

The effects of pharmaceuticals in estuarine and coastal waters are currently unknown. An important first step in understanding possible effects is to document which compounds are present and in what concentrations. This type of information can then help scientists in designing the appropriate laboratory and field studies to assess environmental and human impacts from these emerging contaminants of concern. The report may be downloaded as a PDF document.

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