We do not understand the long-term effects of many contaminants that enter our water systems every day. New chemicals are identified frequently, and some are detected at levels not seen before. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strives to understand these emerging contaminants and provide guidelines and regulations when needed.

Some of the contaminants included on EPA’s Contaminants of Emerging Concern page are pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). Pharmaceuticals refer to prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as veterinary drugs. Personal care products are used for personal or cosmetic reasons including soaps and facial washes, fragrances, and makeup and other cosmetics. Marianne Metzger included many of these emerging contaminants in her June article for Water Technology. From chemicals in these products to the tiny, plastic microbeads in facial scrubs, new concerns seem to arise, and the general effects can be harmful to select populations if not to everyone.

Some contaminants are known and have suggested guidelines or regulations, but increased amounts or new knowledge of how they affect people or the environment may result in concern and new guidelines from EPA. One of these contaminants, caused by large algal blooms, has received new recommendations. EPA and Health Canada recently disseminated new guidelines for children and adults regarding microcystins and cylindrospermopsins. Dr. Joe Cotruvo discusses these contaminants in his brief commentary. In the August Contaminant of the Month, Dr. Cotruvo will explain these new guidelines in more detail.

For more information regarding contaminants regulated by EPA and their maximum contaminant levels, visit the EPA site.