Utilizing Pharmaceutical and Microbial Tracers to Identify Human Pollution Sources in Rural Alaska Waters

February 22, 2013 • Filed under: News — melanie.rohr

WERC graduate student Edda Mutter will discuss her research on using pharmaceuticals as tracers to identify pollution sources in the local water supply at this week’s seminar, Friday, February 22, 2013.

Friday Seminar Series

  • What: Utilizing Pharmaceutical and Microbial Tracers to Identify Human Pollution Sources in Rural Alaska Waters
  • Who: Edda Mutter
  • When: 3:30-4:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 22
  • Where: 531 Duckering

Insufficient information is available regarding the fate, transport and effects of chemical and microbial pathogenic pollutants leaching from liquid and solid waste facilities in rural Alaska. Moreover, these fate and transport processes may be susceptible to changes resulting from human activity or a warming climate. In rural Alaska, waste leachate and runoff can be caused by seasonal flooding, or through thawing of the active layer primarily during the warm season. For example, the coastal community of Kivalina was subject to extreme storms and flooding in August 2012. High river water destroyed the Kivalina drinking water supply pipes and flooded the community landfill and sewage lagoon. This resulted in contamination of the community drinking water for a period of weeks due to uncontrolled migration of waste-derived pollutants. This event demonstrated the importance of establishing a better understanding of the potential exposure pathways between waste derived pollutants and human or ecological receptors. Since it is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to test for the presence of a large variety of pathogenic microorganisms and chemical pollutants, this study was designed to develop pharmaceutical tracers in order to identify human/fecal pollution sources in local water resources. Pharmaceuticals such as anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, stimulant, and/or antidepressant drugs can serve as excellent tracers based upon the premise that they are discharged into the environment through human excretion of the unmetabolized fractions. Moreover, outdated medication or their remnants are often disposed into household waste and eventually end up untreated in rural Alaska open dumps. This presentation will discuss identification and quantification, as well as migration behavior of pharmaceutical compounds and microbial indicator organisms between waste sites and the surrounding freshwater systems. In addition, it will address the analytical challenges of working with a wide range of pharmaceutical compounds, including a description of the complex water matrix extraction, purification processes, and high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC-MSMS) analysis.

Graduate student Edda Mutter samples surface water at a rural Alaska solid waste facility

Graduate student Edda Mutter samples surface water at a rural Alaska solid waste facility.

(Photo provided by Edda Mutter)