Monday, November 18, 2019

Episode 499 (11-18-19): A Report on Emerging Contaminants in Virginia

Click to listen to episode (4:29)

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 11-15-19.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of November 18, 2019.

SOUNDS (CROWD NOISE) - ~ 4 seconds

This week, imagine you’re at a water conference among a crowd gathered for a panel discussion on this question: “What’s in the water about which we don’t know enough?”  Have a listen for about 15 seconds to some answers that that panel might give.

VOICES - ~15 sec – “Pharmaceuticals and personal care products, flame retardants, hormones, perfluorinated compounds, antibiotics, microplastics and microfibers, engineered nanomaterials.”

You’ve been listening to the names of seven categories of substances known collectively as “emerging contaminants,” or more precisely, “contaminants of emerging concern”--CECs for short.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, aquatic CECs are substances which have been found in surface waters or groundwater and which may have harmful effects on aquatic life or human health, but which are not currently regulated or routinely monitored.  Some CECs have only recently been detected in water bodies, while others have previously been known to occur but their presence or significance is only now becoming a concern.

The seven groups of CECs you heard called out are the subject of “Emerging Contaminants in the Waters of Virginia,” an October 2019 report by the Academic Advisory Committee to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  The report was written by Kang Xia of Virginia Tech and published by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, which coordinates the Academic Advisory Committee.

Here are some important points from the report.

CECs can be found in water, sediments, aquatic organisms, and soils.

Major sources of these seven groups of CECs are wastewater, the biosolids remaining after wastewater treatment, animal manure, solid-waste landfills, and atmospheric deposition.

These groups of CECs can include many individual substances; for example, over 3000 substances are currently known in the perfluorinated compounds group.  The large number of substances presents analytical and monitoring challenges.

Antibiotics have been reported from water, groundwater, and drinking water in Virginia, potentially contributing to the development of antibiotic resistance, and the World Health Organization has called antibiotic resistance one of the most important global health challenges of the 21st Century.

Microplastics—either those used in many items such as textiles and personal care products, or those resulting from disintegration of plastic debris—are found in many aquatic environments and organisms, but relatively research has been done on their occurrence in Virginia.

And, overall, despite the valuable contributions of this new report, much is still unknown about the occurrence of CECs in Virginia and the risks they may pose.

The report is available through the Virginia Water Center’s Web site at

Thanks to several Virginia Tech colleagues for lending their voices to this episode.


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The emerging contaminant category names were spoken on November 14, 2109, by six faculty and staff members in the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment in Blacksburg.  Thanks to those colleagues for participating in this episode.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode. More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at


Figure 1 from “Emerging Contaminants in the Waters of Virginia—2019 Report of the Academic Advisory Committee for Virginia Department of Environmental Quality,” by Kang Xia, published by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg, Va. (SR63-2019), October 2019.


The following information is from the Virginia Water Resources Research Center Web site, online at

The Virginia General Assembly in the 1997 Water Quality Monitoring, Information, and Restoration Act (WQMIR) directed the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to develop EPA-required 303(d) and 305(b) [water-quality] reports in consultation with experts from the state’s universities.  To meet the WQMIR academic consultation requirements, the DEQ asked the Virginia Water Resources Research Center (VWRRC) to organize and coordinate a Water Quality Academic Advisory Committee (WQAAC) to serve as an independent advisory body to the DEQ.  The WQAAC reviews and evaluates the scientific merits of the DEQ’s existing and evolving water quality assessment procedures for the 305(b) and 303 (d) reports.

As of November 2019, members of the committee are from University of Virginia, VCU, Virginia Tech, William and Mary/VIMS, and Resources for the Future.  Besides the recent report on emerging contaminants covered in this episode of Virginia Water Radio, other major topics addressed by the committee have been aquatic life use assessment protocols and freshwater nutrient criteria.


National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Flame Retardants,” online at

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Ocean Service, “What are microplastics?” as of 6/25/18, online at

PBS NewsHour, Why overuse of antibiotics is a massive, ‘staggering’ problem in health care, 11/14/19 (6 min./11 sec. video with transcript).

Reuters/New York Times, Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Killing Twice as Many Americans as Once Thought, 11/14/19.

U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, “Federal Water Pollution Control Act (1972) or the Clean Water Act (CWA),” online at

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance/2019 AR Report,” online at

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Contaminants of Emerging Concern including Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products,” online at

U.S. EPA, “Learn about Effluent Guidelines,” online at

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “Emerging Contaminants,” online at  (This is a detailed Web site with links to research publications, videos, data sources, and related topics.)

USGS/Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, “Contaminants of Emerging Concern in the Environment,” online at

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances,” online at

Virginia Water Resources Research Center, “Water Quality Academic Advisory Committee,” online at

Kang Xia, “Emerging Contaminants in the Waters of Virginia—2019 Report of the Academic Advisory Committee for Virginia Department of Environmental Quality,” Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg, Va., SR63-2019, October 2019, available online (as a PDF) at  An overview of the report is available from the Virginia Water Center in “WQAAC Reports on Emerging Contaminants and Aquatic Life Assessment Protocol,” 10/16/19, online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Science,” and “Water Quality” subject categories.

Following is a link to another episode related to pharmaceuticals in water.

Episode 417, 4-23-18.


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
3.9 – Water cycle, including sources of water, energy driving water cycle, water essential for living things, and water limitations and conservation.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Virginia natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decisions, hazard mitigation, and cost/benefit assessments).

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
4.5 – ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystems.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Virginia watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.1 – understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science, including current applications to reinforce science concepts.
LS.11 – relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
ES.8 – influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia, “with reference to the hydrologic cycle.”
ES.10 – ocean processes, interactions, and policies affecting coastal zones, including Chesapeake Bay.

Biology Course
BIO.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
BIO.2 – water chemistry and its impact on life processes.
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Chemistry Course
CH.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
CH.6 – chemical properties in organic chemistry and biochemistry.

2015 Social Studies SOLs

Civics and Economics Course
CE.1 – skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision-making, and responsible citizenship.
CE.6 – government at the national level.
CE.7 – government at the state level.
CE.10 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.1 – skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision-making, and responsible citizenship.
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.

Government Course
GOVT.1 – skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision-making, and responsible citizenship.
GOVT.7 – national government organization and powers.
GOVT.8 – state and local government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – public policy process at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT.15 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.