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Pathogen research using innovative tracers

Pathogen research using innovative tracers

What are PPCPs?

PPCPs are common household substances - known collectively as Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products. They contain ingredients ranging from the caffeine in our morning coffee to the preservatives in our toothpaste and the paracetamol in our headache tablets. When used in the home, these substances end up in our wastewater.

Why are they important?

PPCPs help WaterNSW scientists identify sources of domestic pollution. In themselves, PPCPs are not a health risk (as they are usually present in extremely low concentrations), but testing for their presence can sometimes highlight other problems.

What is an onsite wastewater system?

Not everyone has pipes that bring clean drinking water to their house and take wastewater away. In some rural areas wastewater is treated and disposed of on the property or taken away by truck to a sewage treatment plant. Septic systems with trenches are commonly used for onsite treatment. Onsite wastewater systems sometimes do not work properly and can pollute the environment. When this happens at lots of properties in the one town, nearby creeks and rivers may end up being polluted. For more information visit our wastewater section.

What do they show us?

PPCPs are used by WaterNSW to help trace sewage contamination. By collecting samples from creeks and rivers, we are able to determine whether wastewater is getting into our waterways. The presence of PPCPs in this wastewater helps us to distinguish between local water quality impacts caused by faulty onsite sewage systems and those caused by runoff from other land use activities such as grazing.

How do we use the data we collect?

The data we collect allows us to determine whether or not there is a potential pollution problem from faulty sewer mains, stormwater connections or onsite wastewater systems. In non-sewered rural areas, this helps us to decide whether or not poor water quality in local waterways could be improved - either by fixing faulty onsite wastewater systems or by replacing them with a sewer system that transfers household wastewater to a sewage treatment plant. 

What have we learned so far?

Our PPCP investigation has helped us to evaluate sources of domestic pollution that otherwise may not have been discovered. For example, by testing for PPCPs in the catchment waterways in Kangaroo Valley and Robertson our scientists were able to determine that effluent from onsite sewage systems was making its way into waterways in both towns.

What are the plans for the future?

Where towns are being sewered WaterNSW will return to assess whether sewering the area has actually fixed the problem of onsite wastewater discharge.

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Friday 24 February