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Urban Natural Resource Stewardship

Bioaccumulation of Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in Urban Aquatic Food Webs

[photo:] A student from the University of Maryland Baltimore County collects crayfish from a Baltimore stream.  Photo by Anne Timm, US Forest Service.Research Issue

The presence of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) in water and bottom sediments is a threat to the health of aquatic habitats, because these chemicals can alter functions of aquatic plants and animals, and accumulate in tissues.  For example, estrogenic hormones and UV filters are PPCPs that have been identified in surface water around the world and represent clear threats to aquatic organisms due to their estrogenic activity.  These contaminants of emerging concern can be ubiquitous in certain areas, and there are limited water treatment process options for their removal.  Chemicals within the PPCP group are known to affect respiration and productivity of algal and microbial communities and are likely to affect other components of aquatic food webs.  Crayfish are important consumers of organic material, algae, and microbes at intermediate trophic levels that are likely to accumulate PPCPs in their tissues.  In turn, organisms that consume crayfish are also likely to accumulate those same PPCPs, so that their bioaccumulation can be tracked into higher levels of aquatic and terrestrial food webs.  The goals of this research are to investigate bioaccumulation of PPCPs in aquatic food webs and to investigate how PPCP concentrations and bioaccumulation rates vary in stream sites sampled along the urban to rural land-use gradient.

Our Research

This research will set up a network of stream sites exposed to varying amounts of leaking sewer pipe infrastructures and impervious surfaces where crayfish are also exposed to PPCPs.  The research focuses specifically on detection analysis of estrogenic hormones (i.e., 17α-ethynylestradiol, 17β-estradiol, and estrone) and UV filters (i.e., 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, octocrylene, octinoxate, and oxybenzone) in water, sediment, and crayfish tissue.  The research will investigate how these hormones and UV filters are partitioned in stream ecosystems within water, sediment, and aquatic species tissues.  

Expected Outcomes

This project will establish a new research dataset that links PPCPs in streams to crayfish and other aquatic species across the urban-rural gradient.  Streams that will be sampled include sites that drain into the Chesapeake Bay, where personal care products are emerging chemicals of concern.  Results from this research are expected to show a gradient of PPCP bioaccumulation in crayfish from highly urbanized watersheds to less urbanized watersheds, depending on the amount of sewer infrastructure within the watershed.  Concentrations of PPCPs are expected to be highest at the aquatic predator level (fish that eat crayfish) and lowest at levels in the water and sediment of streams.  Results from this research can be used to determine the extent of potential effects of PPCPs on aquatic species in relation to sewer pipe infrastructure and extent of impervious surface within watersheds.

Research Partners

Last Modified: November 13, 2015