Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Concentrations of hormones, pharmaceuticals and other micropollutants in groundwater affected by septic systems in New England and New York

January 19, 2015

Septic-system discharges can be an important source of micropollutants (including pharmaceuticals and endocrine active compounds) to adjacent groundwater and surface water systems. Groundwater samples were collected from well networks tapping glacial till in New England (NE) and sandy surficial aquifer New York (NY) during one sampling round in 2011. The NE network assesses the effect of a single large septic system that receives discharge from an extended health care facility for the elderly. The NY network assesses the effect of many small septic systems used seasonally on a densely populated portion of Fire Island. The data collected from these two networks indicate that hydrogeologic and demographic factors affect micropollutant concentrations in these systems.

The highest micropollutant concentrations from the NE network were present in samples collected from below the leach beds and in a well downgradient of the leach beds. Total concentrations for personal care/domestic use compounds, pharmaceutical compounds and plasticizer compounds generally ranged from 1 to over 20 μg/L in the NE network samples. High tris(2-butoxyethyl phosphate) plasticizer concentrations in wells beneath and downgradient of the leach beds (> 20 μg/L) may reflect the presence of this compound in cleaning agents at the extended health-care facility.

The highest micropollutant concentrations for the NY network were present in the shoreline wells and reflect groundwater that is most affected by septic system discharges. One of the shoreline wells had personal care/domestic use, pharmaceutical, and plasticizer concentrations ranging from 0.4 to 5.7 μg/L. Estradiol equivalency quotient concentrations were also highest in a shoreline well sample (3.1 ng/L). Most micropollutant concentrations increase with increasing specific conductance and total nitrogen concentrations for shoreline well samples. These findings suggest that septic systems serving institutional settings and densely populated areas in coastal settings may be locally important sources of micropollutants to adjacent aquifer and marine systems.

Publication Year 2015
Title Concentrations of hormones, pharmaceuticals and other micropollutants in groundwater affected by septic systems in New England and New York
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.12.067
Authors Patrick J. Phillips, Christopher E. Schubert, Denise M. Argue, Irene J. Fisher, Edward T. Furlong, William T. Foreman, James L. Gray, Ann T. Chalmers
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70142252
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Water Quality Laboratory; New York Water Science Center; Toxic Substances Hydrology Program