Last updated February 8, 2018 at 10:02 am
Environmentalists are using sugar substitutes as markers of groundwater contamination.
There’s an unexpected use for artificial sweeteners that has nothing to do with watching your weight.
They proved to be the best possible marker for Canadian researchers wanting to monitor where waste from toilets and sinks ends up.
Why? Because they are common to wastewater, and also pretty well unique – there are very few other possible sources in the environment.
They are also found in much higher concentrations than other wastewater markers and don’t break down as quickly, which makes them easier to detect.
“We have never found a wastewater sample that didn’t have these sweeteners present,” says Adjunct Professor John Spoelstra, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The researchers wanted to test whether water from a septic system was finding its way into two different water sources in rural areas of Ontario – groundwater seeps or springs and privately-owned wells that supply water to households.
The short answer is that it was. Overall, about 30 per cent of the wells and springs contained one or more of the four sweeteners they searched for.
“Although these sweeteners in groundwater themselves may not be a human health concern, the fact that they are there means there is also wastewater, which may contain other chemicals or bacteria of concern,” Spoelstra says.
“Groundwater often gets to streams and lakes. Therefore the contamination of groundwater can also affect surface water quality. We currently don’t know the effects of artificial sweeteners on most organisms in the water.”
The paper recently published by the Journal of Environmental Quality.