Pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and other contaminants are widespread in water that has passed through landfill waste, called leachate, according to researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey.
In the first national assessment of these chemicals of emerging concern, USGS scientists collected leachate from 19 active landfills across the United States.
They analyzed the untreated leachate samples – before treatment and environmental release – for 202 chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, hygiene products, home-use chemicals, pesticides, plastics.
Of the 202 chemicals investigated, the scientists found 129.
Chemicals commonly detected include:
• bisphenol A: found in 95 percent of samples, used to make plastics and resins
• cotinine: detected in 95 percent of samples, a chemical formed from nicotine
• N,N-diethyltoluamide: detected in 95 percent of samples, also known as DEET, an insect repellent
• lidocaine: detected in 89 percent of samples, used as anti-itching and local anesthetic
• camphor: detected in 84 percent of samples, used in a variety of medicines and lotions
“This represents the first step in USGS efforts to quantify the contribution of contaminants of emerging concern in leachate from active landfills to the environment,” said Dana Kolpin, the USGS research team leader. “Follow-up research will examine contaminant concentrations in treated and untreated leachate that is released to the environment.”
Of the chemicals found, concentrations varied. Home-use and industrial chemicals were found in the highest concentrations, prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals were the next highest, while steroid hormone concentrations were the lowest.
The most concentrated chemical found was para-cresol, used as a plasticizer and flame-retardant, antioxidant in oils, rubber, polymers, and as a wood preservative.
“As expected, we found more chemicals and generally higher concentrations in landfills from wetter regions compared to those from drier regions,” said USGS scientist Jason Masoner, the study’s primary author. “Overall, this study provides a better understanding of sources of contaminants of emerging concern in landfills.”
The paper, “Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Fresh Leachate from Landfills in the Conterminous United States,” has been published in the journal, “Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts.”