Contaminants of emerging concern in the open sea waters of the Western Mediterranean

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Pollution by chemical substances is of concern for the maintenance of healthy and sustainable aquatic environments. While the occurrence and fate of numerous emerging contaminants, especially pharmaceuticals, is well documented in freshwater, their occurrence and behavior in coastal and marine waters is much less studied and understood. This study investigates the occurrence of 58 chemicals in the open surface water of the Western Mediterranean Sea for the first time. 70 samples in total were collected in 10 different sampling areas. 3 pesticides, 11 pharmaceuticals and personal care products and 2 artificial sweeteners were detected at sub-ng to ng/L levels. Among them, the herbicide terbuthylazine, the pharmaceuticals caffeine, carbamazepine, naproxen and paracetamol, the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole, the antibacterial triclocarban and the two artificial sweeteners acesulfame and saccharin were detected in all samples. The compound detected at the highest concentration was saccharin (up to 5.23 ng/L). Generally small spatial differences among individual sampling areas point to a diffuse character of sources which are likely dominated by WWTP effluents and runoffs from agricultural areas or even, at least for pharmaceuticals and artificial food additives, from offshore sources such as ferries and cruising ships. The implications of the ubiquitous presence in the open sea of chemicals that are bio-active or toxic at low doses on photosynthetic organisms and/or bacteria (i.e., terbuthylazine, sulfamethoxazole or triclocarban) deserve scientific attention, especially concerning possible subtle impacts from chronic exposure of pelagic microorganisms.

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Environmental Pollution