Water Center, The


Date of this Version



Published in Water Environment Research, Volume 80, Number 10, pp. 848-897. Copyright © 2008 Water Environment Federation. Used by permission.


Agricultural settings are affected by a unique set of environmental contaminants typically associated with land use. Nutrients and sediments from run-off and erosion have historically been, and continue to be, studied and understood with respect to their impacts to aquatic environments. Studies involving newer classes of contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals and steroids, are becoming more prevalent as methods for measuring these compounds become available. These “emerging” contaminants clearly have potential to enter the environment and cause known or suspected adverse ecological or human health effects. Release of these contaminants to the environment has occurred for quite some time, but methods for their detection at environmentally-relevant concentrations have only recently become available.

Studies involving emerging contaminants typically focus on the environmental fate and effects of surfactants, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, steroid hormones and other endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs), fire retardants, sunscreens, disinfection byproducts, new pesticides and pesticide metabolites, and naturally-occurring algal toxins. Detection of these and wastewater-related contaminants in environmental matrices (water, wastewater, soils and sediments) is particularly challenging because of the low detection limits required, the complex nature of the samples, and difficulty in separating these compounds from interferences. New extraction and clean-up techniques, coupled with improvements in instrumental technologies provide the needed sensitivity and specificity for accurate measurement.

The objective of this paper is to review the literature published in 2007 evaluating the detection, fate, and occurrence of emerging contaminants, with a particular focus on emerging contaminants in agricultural systems. Relevant contaminants are EDCs (particularly hormones and anabolic steroids), antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals associated with wastewater, antibiotic resistance genes in bacteria and prions. Studies on pesticides and flame retardants are not reviewed unless they were evaluated in the same study.