Environmental Science

So What Happens to All That Coffee?

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Science  31 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5607, pp. 627
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5607.627c

Although many industrialized nations routinely treat wastewater, the capacity of these systems is finite, and thus some wastewater can go untreated, especially during large storms and floods. Buerge et al. have followed one proposed marker for domestically produced wastewater—caffeine—by measuring its concentration in water entering and exiting Swiss wastewater plants and in local watersheds. Treatment eliminates 80 to 100% of the caffeine (primarily from coffee), yet caffeine is routinely detected in Swiss rivers and all but the highest Alpine lakes. The authors calculate that if this caffeine were to have been introduced on the days when wastewater systems were overburdened due to rain, then the fraction of untreated wastewater would amount to 1 to 4%. Indeed, for Zürichsee, monthly inputs of caffeine did correlate with fluctuations in precipitation. — PDS

Environ. Sci. Technol. 10.1021/es020125z (2003).

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