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The Dark Side Of Coffee: Caffeinated Ocean Water In The Pacific Northwest
August 2, 2012
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The notion that people in the Pacific Northwest all have a serious coffee habit may be a stereotype - but as it turns out, unusual levels of caffeine pollution have been discovered in some areas of the Pacific Ocean.

In one area of the ocean near Oregon, caffeine levels in the water were about 45 nanograms per litre. Of course, even the highest levels of caffeine discovered are nothing compared to a cup of actual cup of coffee, which has an average of 500,000,000 nanograms of caffeine per litre.

Scientists believe the presence of caffeine is evidence that contaminants in human waste are entering natural water systems, with uncertain consequences for wildlife and humans alike. But the highest levels of caffeine weren't found near sewage-treatment plants, larger communities or river mouths. They were discovered in more remote waters, like those near a state park.

The reason for the higher levels there may be a lack of stringent monitoring programs to prevent waste from ending up in the water. "Wastewater-treatment plants, for the most part, have to do regular monitoring to ensure they are within certain limits", said study co-author Elise Granek. The study speculates that on-site waste disposal systems like septic tanks may be the culprit.

And while the idea of an over-excited school of fish or a neurotic, fast-talking crab might seem funny, the discovery of these high levels of caffeine is cause for concern. Experts think caffeine is just one of many "understudied contaminants" that's seeping into the ocean, and potentially damaging the fragile marine ecosystem.

Related stories on Strombo.com:

Marine Die-Ology? Biologists Say Underwater Species Are In Trouble

The TerraMar Project: Ocean Citizenship With Waterfront Views?

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