Presence and Distribution of Organic
Wastewater Compounds in Wastewater,
Surface, Ground, and Drinking Waters,
Minnesota, 2000–02

By Kathy E. Lee, Larry B. Barber, Edward T. Furlong, Jeffery D. Cahill, Dana W.
Kolpin, Michael T. Meyer, and Steven D. Zaugg

Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5138

Prepared in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

This report is also available as a pdf.

Revised September 24, 2012


Selected organic wastewater compounds (OWCs) such as household, industrial, and agricultural-use compounds, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, and sterols and hormones were measured at 65 sites in Minnesota as part of a cooperative study among the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Samples were collected in Minnesota during October 2000 through November 2002 and analyzed for the presence and distribution of 91 OWCs at sites including wastewater treatment plant influent and effluent; landfill and feedlot lagoon leachate; surface water; ground water (underlying sewered and unsewered mixed urban land use, a waste dump, and feedlots); and the intake and finished drinking water from drinking water facilities.

There were 74 OWCs detected that represent a wide variety of use. Samples generally comprised a mixture of compounds (average of 6 OWCs) and 90 percent of the samples had at least one OWC detected. Concentrations for detected OWCs generally were less than 3 micrograms per liter. The ten most frequently detected OWCs were metolachlor (agricultural-use herbicide); cholesterol (sterol primarily associated with animal waste); caffeine (stimulant), N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) (topical insect repellant); bromoform (disinfection by product); tri(2-chloroethyl)phosphate (flame-retardant and plastic component); beta-sitosterol (plant sterol that is a known endocrine disruptor); acetyl-hexamethyl-tetrahydro- naphthalene (AHTN) (synthetic musk widely used in personal care products, and a known endocrine disruptor); bisphenol-A (plastic component and a known endocrine disruptor); and cotinine (metabolite of nicotine).

Wastewater treatment plant influent and effluent, landfill leachate, and ground water underlying a waste dump had the greatest number of OWCs detected. OWC detections in ground-water were low except underlying the one waste dump studied and feedlots. There generally were more OWCs detected in surface water than ground water, and there were twice as many OWCs detected in the surface water sites downstream from wastewater treatment plant (WWTP effluent than at sites not directly downstream from effluent. Comparisons among site classifications apply only to sites sampled during the study.

Results of this study indicate ubiquitous distribution of measured OWCs in the environment that originate from numerous sources and pathways. During this reconnaissance of OWCs in Minnesota it was not possible to determine the specific sources of OWCs to surface, ground, or drinking waters. The data indicate WWTP effluent is a major pathway of OWCs to surface waters and that landfill leachate at selected facilities is a potential source of OWCs to WWTPs. Aquatic organism or human exposure to some OWCs is likely based on OWC distribution. Few aquatic or human health standards or criteria exist for the OWCs analyzed, and the risks to humans or aquatic wildlife are not known. Some OWCs detected in this study are endocrine disrupters and have been found to disrupt or influence endocrine function in fish. Thirteen endocrine disrupters, 3-tert-butyl-4-hydoxyanisole (BHA), 4- cumylphenol, 4-normal-octylphenol, 4-tert-octylphenol, acetyl-hexamethyl-tetrahydro-naphthalene (AHTN), benzo[α]pyrene, beta-sitosterol, bisphenol-A, diazinon, nonylphenol diethoxylate (NP2EO), octyphenol diethoxylate (OP2EO), octylphenol monoethoxylate (OP1EO), and total para-nonylphenol (NP) were detected. Results of reconnaissance studies may help regulators who set water-quality standards begin to prioritize which OWCs to focus upon for given categories of water use.




Study design and methods

Quality assurance

Data evaluation

Hydrologic setting and basic water-quality parameters

Presence and distribution of organic wastewater compounds among all sites

Presence and distribution of organice wastewater compounds for specific site classifications


Wastewater treatment plants

Landfill leachate

Feedlot lagoons

Surface water

Ground water

Drinking water

Comparison among site classifications

Implications for water-quality and human and aquatic health

Summary and conclusions


Appendix 1. Potential uses of organic wastewater compounds analyzed in water samples, Minnesota 2000-02

Appendix 2. Quality-control data summary for laboratory reagent spike and blank samples for all analytes, Minnesota 2000-02

Appendix 3. Quality assurance summary for laboratory surrogate compounds in samples analyzed with field samples, Minnesota, 2000-02

Appendix 4. Quality assurance summary of field replicates and blanks, Minnesota, 2000-02

Suggested Citation:

Lee, K.E., Barber, L.B., Furlong, E.T., Cahill, J.D., Kolpin, D.W., Meyer, M.T., and Zaugg, S.D., 2004, Presence and distribution of organic wastewater compounds in wastewater, surface, ground, and drinking waters, Minnesota, 2000-02: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigation Report 2004-5138, 47 p.

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The data formats are text and Microsoft Excel, text files which can be imported into most spreadsheet programs.


URL2_Pharmaceutical_Field Data

URL3_Antibiotics_Field Data

URL4_Household-Industrial and Agricultural-Use Data

URL5_Sterols Hormones Field Data

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For more information about USGS activities in Minnesota, visit the USGS Minnesota District home page.

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