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Chemistry professor links feces and caffeine
Date:11/21/2011

This press release is available in French.

Researchers led by Prof. Sbastien Sauv of the University of Montreal's Department of Chemistry have discovered that traces of caffeine are a useful indicator of the contamination of our water by sewers. "E coli bacteria is commonly used to evaluate and regulate the levels of fecal pollution of our water from storm water discharge, but because storm sewers systems collect surface runoff, non-human sources can contribute significantly to the levels that are observed," Sauv explained. "Our study has determined that there is a strong correlation between the levels of caffeine in water and the level of bacteria, and that chemists can therefore use caffeine levels as an indicator of pollution due to sewerage systems."

The researchers took water samples from streams, brooks and storm sewer outfall pipes that collect storm waters across the Island of Montreal, and analyzed them for caffeine, fecal coliforms, and a third suspected indicator, carbamazepine. Shockingly, all the samples contained various concentrations of these contaminants, which would suggest that contamination is widespread in urban environments. Carbamazepine is an anti-seizure drug which is also increasingly used for various psychiatric treatments, and the researchers thought it might be a useful indicator because it degrades very slowly. However, unlike with caffeine, no correlation was found.

Caffeine degrades within a few weeks to 2-3 months in the environment and is very widely consumed. The presence of caffeine is also a sure indicator of human sewage contamination, as agriculture and industry do not tend to release caffeine into the environment. The team also noted that the data suggest that Montreal's storm water collection system is widely contaminated by domestic sewers. On the other hand, the researchers observed high levels of fecal
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Contact: William Raillant-Clark
w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca
514-343-7593
University of Montreal
Source:Eurekalert

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