Thursday, August 09, 2012

Byproduct of Coffee Kick In Seattle: Jacked Up Pacific

Coffee and Seattle go together about as well as orange ties on Peter Laviolette, as well Hall went with Oates or Bell went with Biv and Devoe...but there's one unfortunate byproduct of all that java that Pacific Northwest residents are chugging.

A caffeinated Pacific Ocean.

Credit:  NOAA
NOAA research in partnership with three colleges in the Pacific Northwest, uncovered the dirty little secret of Seattle and Portland's obsession with coffee.   Caffeine levels in the ocean were higher than acceptable levels and despite man's best attempts at treating and processing waste from the sewer system, some caffeine still slips into the ocean.  Researchers found that water treatment plants were effective at removing large quantities of caffeine from the sewer system but that the combination of storm water overflow, particularly after heavy rainfall, and septic tank leakage in some spots are the main culprits in caffeine leak into the waters.

"Our study findings indicate that, contrary to our prediction, the waste water treatment plants are not a major source of caffeine to coastal waters," Elise Granek, assistant professor of environmental science and management at Portland State University, said. "However, onsite waste disposal systems may be a big contributor of contaminants to Oregon’s coastal ocean and need to be better studied to fully understand their contribution to pollution of ocean waters."

The NOAA study had postulated that caffeine levels would be higher near waste water treatment plants. Caffeine levels are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency or by state environmental regulators but there are links that caffeine in the water supply can impact various aquatic life, such as cause cellular stress in mussels.

The levels found in the more remote study areas in Oregon and Washington "did cause these mussels to exhibit cellular stress," said Granek. "If we expose them to higher concentrations or longer terms, do we see changes in growth rates, or changes in reproductive output?"

More research will be done to determine the specific impacts of caffeine on the environment.