U.S. Water News Online
SEATTLE -- Researchers at the University of Washington say
all that holiday baking and eating has an environmental impact --
Puget Sound is being flavored by cinnamon and vanilla.
"Even something as fun as baking for the holiday season has an
environmental effect," said Rick Keil, an associate professor of
chemical oceanography. "When we bake and change the way we eat, it
has an impact on what the environment sees. To me it shows the
Keil and UW researcher Jacquelyn Neibauer's weekly tests of
treated sewage sent into the sound from the West Point treatment
plant in Magnolia showed cinnamon, vanilla and artificial vanilla
levels rose between Nov. 14 and Dec. 9, with the biggest spike right
Natural vanilla showed the largest increase, "perhaps indicative
of more home baking using natural vanilla," Keil and Neibauer wrote.
"This conjecture is weakly supported by a verbal communication
between Rick Keil and an employee of the Wallingford QFC
(supermarket) who felt that natural vanilla peaked during the holiday
seasons," the scientists' preliminary report says. "This will be
investigated more thoroughly."
So far, the research has turned up no evidence that snickerdoodles
are harming sea creatures, but their research does lead to some
serious environmental questions.
Fish rely heavily on their sense of smell to locate food, for
example, and, in the case of salmon, to find their way back to their
home stream to spawn.
"All the spices have odors associated with them, so it's
interesting to ask whether they are there in sufficient concentration
(for fish) to smell them," Keil said.
Using benchmarks from a published scientific study, they were able
to estimate that people in Seattle and a few outlying areas served by
the sewage plant consumed the daily equivalent of about 160,000
butter- or chocolate-chip-type cookies and about 80,000 cookies
containing cinnamon during the Thanksgiving weekend.
The county did not spend any money on the study, but officials at
King County's Wastewater Treatment Division said they were happy to
cooperate because they expected the results to reinforce their
message -- What goes down the drain has to come out somewhere.
That goes both for pesticides and industrial chemicals as well as
vanilla and cinnamon.
"It's an ability to look at a whole population's behavior through
one pipe," said Randy Schuman, a county science and technical support
manager who helped arrange the wastewater testing.
Keil's findings present a light side of what scientists say is
potentially a serious situation. Scientists at the U.S. Geological
Survey and other agencies have documented that antibiotics,
contraceptives, perfumes, painkillers, antidepressants and other
substances pass through the sewage system into waterways.
King County researchers several years took caffeine measurements
to try to learn whether the city's coffee drinking habits had any
effect on the sound. Caffeine was found in more than 160 of 216
samples in water as deep as 640 feet.
"It was everywhere," Schuman said. "There's an effect (from)
humans on the sound and it's almost ubiquitous. It's not just at the
end of the (discharge) pipe."
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