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Caffeine in Boston Harbor past and present, assessing its utility as a tracer of wastewater contamination in an urban estuary
Cantwell, M., D. Katz, J. Sullivan, T. Borci, AND R. Chen. Caffeine in Boston Harbor past and present, assessing its utility as a tracer of wastewater contamination in an urban estuary. MARINE POLLUTION BULLETIN. Elsevier Science Ltd, New York, NY, 108:321-324, (2016).
This study of Boston Harbor was conducted to assess the current magnitude and sources of sanitary wastewater entering the estuary using caffeine as a tracer. Caffeine levels were measured in the water column throughout the Harbor in June 2015 and compared to concentrations from a previous study conducted in 1998-1999. Concentrations of caffeine were lower in the current study in contrast to those from 1998-1999, indicating a decrease in the discharge of wastewater entering the Harbor. The decline in caffeine is attributed to termination of effluent discharge to the harbor as well as reduction in the number of combined sewage overflows (CSOs) and discharge volume. Spatial distributions of caffeine identified CSOs as the primary sources of wastewater to the inner harbor. The findings further establish the utility of caffeine as a tracer for sanitary wastewater contamination in urban embayments and demonstrate the effectiveness of recent pollution abatement projects in Boston Harbor.
Sites throughout Boston Harbor were analyzed for caffeine to assess its utility as a tracer in identifying sources of sanitary wastewater. Caffeine ranged from 15 ng/L in the outer harbor to a high of 185 ng/L in the inner harbor. Inner harbor concentrations were a result of combined sewage overflow (CSO) events as well as illicit discharge of sanitary sewage into municipal storm drains. Comparing current results to data from 1998 to 1999 shows reductions in caffeine levels. Reductions are attributed to termination of effluent discharge to the harbor, declines in the number of CSOs and discharge volume along with efforts to eliminate illicit discharges. Spatial distributions of caffeine identified CSOs as major contemporary sources to the inner harbor. The findings further establish the utility of caffeine as a tracer for sanitary wastewater contamination in urban estuaries and demonstrate the efficacy of pollution reduction strategies undertaken in recent decades in Boston Harbor.