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Ecosystems & Environment: Landfills & Solid Waste

EPA scientists are investing the types of endocrine disrupting chemicals present in landfills

Issue

Endocrine disrupting chemicals may be present in landfills, for instance through the disposal of hormone-disrupting pharmaceutical products and personal care products with municipal waste. Many municipalities have programs to collect unused pharmaceutical products for safe disposal, but often consumers discard such products with municipal waste. In addition, some sewage treatment plants dispose of their solid residuals (biosolids) in landfills which may contain drugs and drug metabolites, endogenous hormones, and personal care products use in down-the-drain settings. Few studies have measured the fate of these products in landfills and in the landfill leachate that is sent from landfills to sewage treatment plants. Which chemicals are present, in what concentration, and how long do they persist? Even less is known about potential endocrine disrupting compounds in compost from municipal waste composting programs, which are growing in popularity in the United States. Compost from such programs is often sold in nurseries and applied to home gardens, but there is little information on what happens after homeowners use the compost.

Action

EPA scientists are investigating the types of pharmaceuticals present in landfills as well as the persistence. One recent study, for instance, tested for the presence of six commonly-used drugs. EPA scientists are also examining new ways to dispose of pharmaceutical products.

Results and Impact

EPA scientists have examined landfill leachate from 10 landfills, and found concentrations of acetaminophen, the active component of Tylenol and many other pain relievers. Concentrations of five other drugs were also present. Researchers have yet to complete test for the presence of hormone-containing drugs and other endocrine disruptors, but such evaluations are ongoing. Research results will help determine the concentrations of endocrine disrupting chemicals in landfills and this information can help inform enhancements to municipality drug disposal programs.

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