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Study Documents Contaminants from Food Process Wastewater

Study Documents Contaminants from Food Process Wastewater

While years of research have shown that municipal wastewater is a source of contaminants to the environment, lesser is known about industrial wastewater. For instance, there are over 5,000 food, beverage, and feedstock facilities in the United States that hold National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits; however, these wastewaters are not typically monitored for organic chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), before they are discharged into “water of the United States”.

gray map of the United States

Laura Hubbard and her team at the U.S. Geological Survey investigated food process wastewater (FPWW) from 23 facilities in 17 states and analyzed for 576 different organic chemicals, including pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, PFAS, and volatile organic compounds. They also searched for microbial substances like bacterial growth, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and antibiotic-resistance genes, as well as inorganic materials like nutrients, cations, and anions.

Hubbard’s research, published in 2022, showed that the tested (and anonymous) FPWW contained both chemical and microbial contaminants with a different profile than other known sources such as municipal wastewater. A total of 186 organic chemicals were detected with up to 48 detected in one sample. This study was the first to summarize contaminants released from FPWW.

Man with hard hat looking into big metal box

The facility-specific results were disseminated to each the facilities, providing extensive data to aid them in future planning and management/mitigation. The results assisted one facility in decisions related to upgrading their fire suppression system to reduce discharge of PFAS into the receiving stream. If you’d like to get involved, or want to know more about this study, please contact Laura Hubbard,, 608-590-9881

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