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Food, beverage, and feedstock processing facility wastewater: a unique and underappreciated source of contaminants to U.S. streams

December 30, 2021

Process wastewaters from food, beverage, and feedstock facilities, although regulated, are an under-investigated environmental contaminant source. Food process wastewaters (FPWWs) from 23 facilities in 17 U.S. states were sampled and documented for a plethora of chemical and microbial contaminants. Of the 576 analyzed organics, 184 (32%) were detected at least once, with concentrations as large as 143 μg L–1 (6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonic acid), and as many as 47 were detected in a single FPWW sample. Cumulative per/polyfluoroalkyl substance concentrations up to 185 μg L–1 and large pesticide transformation product concentrations (e.g., methomyl oxime, 40 μg L–1; clothianidin TMG, 2.02 μg L–1) were observed. Despite 48% of FPWW undergoing disinfection treatment prior to discharge, bacteria resistant to third-generation antibiotics were found in each facility type, and multiple bacterial groups were detected in all samples, including total coliforms. The exposure–activity ratios and toxicity quotients exceeded 1.0 in 13 and 22% of samples, respectively, indicating potential biological effects and toxicity to vertebrates and invertebrates associated with the discharge of FPWW. Organic contaminant profiles of FPWW differed from previously reported contaminant profiles of municipal effluents and urban storm water, indicating that FPWW is another important source of chemical and microbial contaminant mixtures discharged into receiving surface waters.