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Sweeteners to track waste water flows


1st July, 2009

Researchers may soon be using artificial sweeteners to track the path waste water takes.

Researchers looking for a man-made contaminant that could be used to track wastewater flows in natural water-bodies have inadvertently discovered that large quantities of artificial sweeteners can survive the water treatment process and pollute ground- and surface-waters.

Writing in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Ignaz Buerge and colleagues from the Swiss Federal Research Station, Agroscope, discovered that although saccharin and cyclamate (banned in the US but still available in Europe) were largely destroyed in water treatment plants, acesulfame K and sucralose survived the process intact.

Acesulfame K was the only sweetener found in groundwater samples, but it was discovered at levels that surprised environmental scientists.

‘[The] concentrations are astronomically high,’ environmental chemist Bruce Brownawell from Stony Brook University in New York told Discovery News. ‘If I had to guess, this is the highest concentration of a compound that goes through sewage treatment plants without being degraded.’

The effect of acesulfame on the marine environment is still not known.

Elsewhere, marketeers behind the latest artificial sweetener, known as Stevia, are engaging in a hearts-and-minds campaign to dampen down any controversy over its introduction.

The company manufacturing Stevia, Pure Circle, has already made a $25,000 donation to an NGO in Paraguay and is looking to build relationships with other NGOs in regions where the Stevia plant – from which the sweetener is derived – will be farmed.


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