Hey coffee lovers, you know that recurring dream where you're swimming in a sea of caffeine? Your subconscious might be onto something.
Unfortunately, the reality is a bit less dreamy if its implications mean heightened levels of pollution. A Portland State University study published last month in Marine Pollution Bulletin examined Oregon coastal waters and found elevated amounts of caffeine at some of the sites. The study, "Occurrence and concentration of caffeine in Oregon coastal waters," found that onsite waste disposal systems might be sending contaminants into the region's waters, polluting the ocean.
Although past studies have found caffeine in other bodies of water, this is the first to examine pollution off Oregon's coast.
According to a Washington State University press release, 14 locations were analyzed, and the researchers found that while waste water treatment plants were not a major contributor, "high rainfall and combined sewer overflows flush the contaminants out to sea" and "septic tanks, such as those used at the state parks, may be less effective at containing pollution."
As National Geographic points out, this might be due to stricter monitoring systems in the larger community areas. U.S. Geological Survey's Dana Kolpin told the news organization that while the environmental effects are unknown, "there is growing evidence that this and other understudied contaminants are out there ... there is a whole universe of potential contaminants including pharmaceuticals, hormones, personal-care products like detergents or fragrances, even artificial sweeteners."
The study's press release adds:
Caffeine is found in many food and beverage products as well as some pharmaceuticals, and caffeine pollution is directly related to human activity (although many plant species produce caffeine, there are no natural sources of the substance in the Northwest). The presence of caffeine may also signal additional anthropogenic pollution, such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other contaminants.
A past study found that mussels could be affected by even the low levels of caffeine found in the more recent study. Faculty adviser Elise Granek said, "We humans drink caffeinated beverages because caffeine has a biological effect on us—so it isn't too surprising that caffeine affects other animals, too."