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What ELSE is in the water of the Mississippi River?

January 24, 2013Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on What ELSE is in the water of the Mississippi River?

It’s pretty well known that the Mississippi River in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is polluted (“impaired” is the technical term) with sediment, excess nutrients, and, most likely, other bad stuff.  This week there has been a flurry of attention to one of the components of that “other bad stuff” category.

Triclosan is a common antibacterial ingredient in soap, shampoo, toothpaste and many other household products.  As this article in Science Daily discusses, triclosan is increasingly being found in freshwater lakes and rivers.  The problem is that when triclosan comes in contact with chlorine, as it often does in wasterwater cleaning plants, it commonly turns into a dioxin, a deadly compound.  Bill Arnold, professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota and project director, is quoted, “It’s important for people to know that what they use in their house every day can have an impact in the environment far beyond their home.”  Arnold recommends that consumers become informed about substances such as triclosan and read the labels of their purchases to reduce the chance they will inadvertently cause harm.

Triclosan is part of a category known as “contaminants of emerging concern,” materials in water about which the impacts are not yet fully understood and to which appropriate responses have not yet been developed.  We know not to throw dog waste down storm sewer grates, or to change car oil on driveways because the pollutants reach the river.  Discoveries such as Bill Arnold’s remind us why we continue to need cutting edge scientific research as wel l as robust policy and engagement priorities to deal with these emerging problems.  The recent State of the River report highlights triclosan and 12 other ongoing threats to water quality in the Upper Mississippi.

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A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.