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Water: Aquatic Life

Aquatic Life: Contaminants of Emerging Concern


White Paper: "Aquatic Life Criteria for Contaminants of Emerging Concern: General Challenges and Recommendations"

Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), including pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), are increasingly being detected at low levels in surface water, and there is concern that these compounds may have an impact on aquatic life. It is important for EPA to be able to evaluate the potential impact of PPCPs on aquatic life and have an approach for determining protective levels for aquatic organisms.

EPA currently uses a series of guidelines established in 1985 to derive ambient water quality criteria (AWQC) for aquatic life. The guidelines address acute risk (short-term effects such as survival and growth) and chronic risk (longer term effects such as reproduction) for traditional pollutants. However, there are many CECs, including several pharmaceuticals that act as so-called endocrine disruptors (EDCs). EDCs are compounds that alter the normal functions of hormones resulting in a variety of health effects. EDCs can alter hormone levels leading to reproductive effects in aquatic organisms, and evaluating these effects may require testing methodologies not typically available along with endpoints not previously evaluated using the 1985 guidelines.

Therefore, EPA developed a white paper detailing the technical issues and recommendations to serve as a basis for modifying the 1985 guidelines. These modifications will enable the Agency to better address CECs and develop AWQC protective of aquatic life when appropriate that makes the best use of available science.

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