Artifical sweeteners which evade sewage treatment may contaminate drinking water

Thanks to a new robust analytical method Marco Scheurer, Heinz-Jürgen Brauch and Frank Thomas Lange from the Water Technology Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, were able to look for seven different artificial sweeteners (cyclamate, acesulfame, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, neohesperidin dihydrochalcone and sucralose) simultaneously, and show, for the first time, that a number of commonly used artificial sweeteners are present in German waste and surface water.

Scheurer and colleagues collected water samples from two sewage treatment plants in Germany – Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen and Karlsruhe – as well as from a soil aquifer treatment site located in a Mediterranean country that treats secondary effluent from a sewage treatment plant.

They tested the water samples using their new analytical method and detected four (acesulfame, saccharin, cyclamate, and sucralose) in the waters from the two German sewage treatment plants, indicating incomplete elimination during waste water treatment. Their analyses also showed that these pollutants contaminate rivers and streams receiving water from the sewage treatment plant.

The authors then compared the conventional waste water treatment by sewage treatment plants with advanced waste water treatment by soil aquifer treatment. Traces of artificial sweeteners were present in both cases, proof that water purification was incomplete.

The potential health risks of artificial sweeteners have been debated for some time but until now, only sucralose has been detected in aquatic environments.

Scheurer et al. Analysis and occurrence of seven artificial sweeteners in German waste water and surface water and in soil aquifer treatment (SAT). Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 2009; DOI: 10.1007/s00216-009-2881-y

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First Published in June 2009

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