-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
MONDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Recycled sewage water can
safely be used for crop irrigation, according to new research.
In what's thought to be the first study conducted under
realistic field conditions, researchers found that crops irrigated
with the water discharged from sewage treatment plants contains
only low levels of prescription drugs and ingredients commonly
found in antibacterial soaps, make-up, shampoos and other personal
"The levels of pharmaceuticals and personal care products that we found in food crops growing under real-world conditions were quite low and most likely do not pose any health concern," study leader Jay Gan, from the University of California-Riverside, said in a news release from the American Chemical Society.
"I think this is good news. These substances do not tend to accumulate in vegetables, including tomatoes and lettuce that people often eat raw. We can use that information to promote the use of this treated wastewater for irrigation," Gan said.
Water flushed down toilets or drained in sinks enters sewage
treatment plants and is processed to remove contaminants and
disease-causing microbes. Although this treated water is considered
safe enough to drink, it's typically released into rivers and
streams as it may still contain traces of the ingredients found in
medications and personal care products.
In the southwestern United States and other parts of the world
that face droughts or water shortages, however, recycled sewage
water is the only way to irrigate food crops.
To address concerns about the health and environmental effects
of using treated sewage water for crop irrigation, the researchers
examined 20 different pharmaceuticals and personal care products
under realistic field conditions to determine if they could
accumulate to potentially dangerous levels in a number of foods,
including carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce,
spinach, celery and cabbage. The researchers specifically chose
foods that are often eaten raw, because cooking can destroy certain
Although all the crops absorbed the ingredients from medications
and personal care products -- such as an epilepsy medication, the
antibacterial agent triclosan, a tranquilizer and caffeine -- the
levels of these contaminants were "reassuringly low," the
The study revealed, however, that leafy vegetables absorbed the
highest levels of contaminants. The researchers also noted that
young children, older people and those with chronic diseases may be
more susceptible to even low levels of these trace ingredients from
drugs and personal care products.
Although the United States only recycles about 2 percent to 3
percent of its wastewater, predicted water shortages could
substantially increase the use of recycled sewage water around the
world, the researchers say.
The study was scheduled to be presented Monday at the American
Chemical Society meeting in Indianapolis. The data and conclusions
should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about
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