Chemistry professor links feces and caffeine

Nov 22, 2011

Researchers led by Prof. Sébastien Sauvé of the University of Montreal's Department of Chemistry have discovered that traces of caffeine are a useful indicator of the contamination of our water by sewers. "E coli bacteria is commonly used to evaluate and regulate the levels of fecal pollution of our water from storm water discharge, but because storm sewers systems collect surface runoff, non-human sources can contribute significantly to the levels that are observed," Sauvé explained. "Our study has determined that there is a strong correlation between the levels of caffeine in water and the level of bacteria, and that chemists can therefore use caffeine levels as an indicator of pollution due to sewerage systems."

The researchers took samples from streams, brooks and storm sewer outfall pipes that collect storm waters across the Island of Montreal, and analyzed them for , fecal coliforms, and a third suspected indicator, carbamazepine. Shockingly, all the samples contained various concentrations of these , which would suggest that contamination is widespread in urban environments. Carbamazepine is an anti-seizure drug which is also increasingly used for various psychiatric treatments, and the researchers thought it might be a useful indicator because it degrades very slowly. However, unlike with caffeine, no correlation was found.

Caffeine degrades within a few weeks to 2-3 months in the environment and is very widely consumed. The presence of caffeine is also a sure indicator of human sewage contamination, as agriculture and industry do not tend to release caffeine into the environment. The team also noted that the data suggest that Montreal's storm water collection system is widely contaminated by domestic sewers. On the other hand, the researchers observed high levels of fecal coliforms but little or no caffeine in some of the samples, which they attribute to urban wildlife. "This data reveals that any water sample containing more than the equivalent of ten cups of coffee diluted in an Olympic-size swimming pool is definitely contaminated with fecal coliforms," Sauvé said. "A caffeine sampling program would be relatively easy to implement and might provide a useful tool to identify sanitary contamination sources and help reduce surface water contamination within an urban watershed."

Explore further: Intracellular imaging gets interactive

More information: "Fecal coliforms, caffeine and carbamazepine in stormwater collection systems in a large urban area" was published online in Chemosphere on November 8, 2011.

Related Stories

Pointing a finger at the source of fecal bacteria

May 23, 2007

Excessive levels of fecal bacteria were to blame for almost 60 percent of Nebraska streams deemed impaired by federal and state environmental laws in 2004. In order to develop effective pollution-control strategies, ...

Real-world proof of hand washing's effectiveness

May 05, 2010

Scientists are reporting dramatic new real-world evidence supporting the idea that hand washing can prevent the spread of water-borne disease. It appears in a new study showing a connection between fecal bacteria ...

Caffeine powder is recalled

May 21, 2007

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Spectrum Laboratory Products Inc. is recalling its Caffeine Citrated Powder due to potential potency issues.

Bacteria use caffeine as food source

May 24, 2011

A new bacterium that uses caffeine for food has been discovered by a doctoral student at the University of Iowa. The bacterium uses newly discovered digestive enzymes to break down the caffeine, which allows it to live and ...

Caffeine promotes drink flavor preference in adolescents

Jul 12, 2011

Research to be presented at the upcoming annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), the foremost society for research into all aspects of eating and drinking behavior, indicates that caffeine ...

Recommended for you

Protein glue shows potential for use with biomaterials

Aug 28, 2014

Researchers at the University of Milan in Italy have shown that a synthetic protein called AGMA1 has the potential to promote the adhesion of brain cells in a laboratory setting. This could prove helpful ...

User comments : 0