New frontiers in health: antimicrobials

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Chemicals we use every day often evade current water treatment processes, threatening the security of our water supply.

By Kirk Davis

Oct. 11, 2015

Video transcript

Narrator: Is the convenience of our lifestyle contaminating our water, and how can we clean up what’s there? That’s what Rolf Halden and his team are investigating. 

Rolf Halden, PhD, Director, Center for Environmental Security: We are studying the movement and fate of chemicals in the environment and how they get into people and what the effects are. A lot of us buy anti-microbial products. Why? Because that’s the first stuff we grab when we reach into the shelves of supermarkets. If we use it and wash our hands, the contact time between the chemical and the bacteria on our hands is too short for the chemical to be effective. So, the chemical is being washed into the sewer, the wastewater treatment plant can’t deal with these chemicals very effectively, so about half or three quarters of the mass of these chemicals come into the plants, end up in the sewage sludge, the sewage sludge then is applied on land. It is actually taken up sometimes by plants and can make it back into the food supply. I think if we would put into the marketing message that you can detect triclosan in 99 percent of breast milk samples in U.S. women, if that message would get out, people wouldn’t buy all these products. 


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