Contaminants of Emerging Concern

Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) are chemicals that have entered the environment through human activities. They have been detected in humans or other living organisms and have been found to persist in the environment, but are not routinely monitored for and are currently unregulated. Examples include phthalates, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), brominated flame retardants (PBDEs), nanoparticles, and pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs).

Although most of these compounds have been detected in surface waters at very low concentrations, there is concern about how CECs impact drinking water and the river's ecology. Increased interest in these substances and their toxic effects by scientists, the public, and regulators is occurring due to improved analytical methods and a growing body of information on the adverse effects of CECs. Therefore, it is important to understand their presence, sources, source pathways, persistence, fate, and how they degrade in surface water.

A number of efforts have been undertaken within the Delaware River Basin to identify, understand, and prioritize CECs, including work that the commission does with the basin states and the U.S. EPA to assess the main stem Delaware River. A three year effort by DRBC to investigate the presence and concentration of PPCPs, PFASs, and PBDEs in the ambient waters of the tidal Delaware River concluded in 2009; the report (revised in Aug. 2013) is linked below.

In February 2013, DRBC and the Water and Environmental Technology (WET) Center at Temple University - a National Science Foundation Industry & University Cooperative Research Program (NSF I/UCRC) - received a grant to partner on a survey to study CECs in several southeastern Pennsylvania tributaries to the tidal Delaware River. Tributaries surveyed included the Neshaminy, Perkiomen, and Wissahickon creeks and the Schuylkill River, all of which have numerous municipal and industrial discharges to surface water. Ten sampling sites were surveyed, the chosen locations above and below potential source discharges for CECs. Funded by the Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center and Pennsylvania Sea Grant, the survey began in March 2013 and was completed in March 2014. 

The commission has an ongoing monitoring program for PFAS/PFC in the main stem Delaware River, examining surface water, fish tissue, and sediment. Commission staff are also developing a DRBC Contaminants of Emerging Concern Strategy in consultation with its Toxics Advisory Committee

Presentations and Reports

The below presentations and reports are by DRBC staff or given at DRBC advisory committee meetings.

Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs):

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs):

Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs):

Informational Links
Drug Take-Back/Disposal Information