Compounds of Emerging Concern Detected in Water Samples from Potable Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants and Detected in Water and Bed-Sediment Samples from Sites on the Trinity River, Dallas, Texas, 2009–13

Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5019
Prepared in cooperation with the City of Dallas, Dallas Water Utilities
By: , and 



The population in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area in northern Texas is rapidly growing, resulting in a rapid increase in the demand for potable water and an increase in the discharge of wastewater treatment plant effluent. An assessment of compounds of emerging concern (CECs) in samples collected at potable water and wastewater treatment plants in Dallas and downstream from Dallas in the Trinity River was completed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the City of Dallas, Dallas Water Utilities. CECs are synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals that are not commonly monitored in the environment but can enter the environment and cause known or suspected adverse ecological or human health effects. CECs can enter the environment through nonpoint sources (for example, runoff) and point sources (for example, concentrated animal feeding operations and treated-effluent discharge from wastewater treatment plants), which can increase concentrations of CECs especially in highly populated areas. CECs include pharmaceuticals (prescription and nonprescription), steroidal hormones, stanols, sterols, detergents and detergent metabolites (hereinafter referred to as “detergents”), personal-use products, pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), flame retardants, plasticizers, and other organic compounds used in everyday domestic, agricultural, and industrial applications. The release of CECs to the environment went largely unrecognized until relatively recently. Increased loading of certain CECs to the environment, combined with advancements in laboratory analysis methods that resulted in appreciably lower detection levels, brought greater attention to the release of CECs. In addition, synthesis of new chemicals or changes in use and disposal of existing chemicals can create new sources of CECs. Some CECs are endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), which can elicit adverse effects on development, behavior, and reproduction of wildlife and can cause dysfunction of human and wildlife endocrine (hormone) systems.

Results of studies in the United States and Europe indicate that CECs, their metabolites, and industrial, agricultural, and household wastewater products are present in the aquatic environment, water treatment plants, and septic systems. CECs, especially pharmaceuticals, are of interest because of their persistence, widespread use, and potential to cause adverse effects in humans and nontargeted organisms. There is also concern that some CECs and EDCs resist degradation of water treatment processes at potable water treatment plants (PWTPs) and wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and that treated-effluent discharge could contain compounds that negatively affect biota living in receiving waters. Therefore, CECs and EDCs are more likely to be detected in environmental samples collected near areas of high population density where treated effluent from WWTPs can contribute substantially to receiving waters.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Dallas, Dallas Water Utilities, evaluated the occurrence and concentrations of selected CECs in samples collected at PWTPs and WWTPs in Dallas and downstream from the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area in the Trinity River, Texas, from August 2009 to December 2013. Water samples were collected at three PWTP sites, two WWTP sites, and five study sites on the Trinity River; all sites where samples were collected were in or downstream from Dallas. These water samples were analyzed for 120 CECs, including human-health pharmaceuticals (prescription and nonprescription), antibiotics, steroidal hormones, stanols, sterols, detergents, personal-use products (flavors and fragrances), pesticides and repellents, industrial wastewater compounds, disinfection compounds, PAHs, flame retardants, and plasticizers. Additionally, bed-sediment samples were collected at each of the five Trinity River sites. The bed-sediment samples were analyzed for 57 CECs.

In general, the water treatment processes at PWTPs and WWTPs were effective at reducing detections and concentrations of CECs to undetectable levels or transforming the compounds into degradates that were not analyzed. There were 14 and 73 CECs detected in raw water and in untreated-influent water at PWTPs and WWTPs, respectively. Of these, 11 of the 14 CECs detected in raw-water samples and 44 of the 73 CECs detected in untreated-influent samples were not detected in finished water or in treated-effluent water samples, respectively, indicating that these compounds were removed or degraded to compounds that were not analyzed. Some CECs, however, are resistant to degradation and were detected in untreated and treated water at PWTPs and at WWTPs. The three CECs detected at PWTPs in raw-water and finished-water samples were tris(dichloroisopropyl)phosphate, benzophenone, and methyl salicylate. At WWTPs, 29 CECs were detected, including carbamazepine, sulfamethoxazole, 4-androstene-3,17-dione, 3-beta-coprostanol, acetyl-hexamethyl-tetrahydronaphthalene (AHTN), hexahydro-hexamethyl-cyclopenta-benzopyran (HHCB), 1,4-dichlorobenzene, tribromomethane, benzophenone, and tris(dichloroisopropyl)phosphate, in untreated and treated water, indicating that treatment processes likely did not remove or degrade these compounds.

Of the 23 CECs detected in stream-water samples collected at 5 sites on the Trinity River in or near Dallas, 10 CECs (carbamazepine, sulfamethoxazole, caffeine, 3-beta-coprostanol, cholesterol, HHCB, benzophenone, triethyl citrate, tributyl phosphate, and tris(dichloroisopropyl)phosphate) were detected at all 5 sites. The 10 CECs detected in water samples collected at all 5 sites on the Trinity River were also detected in treated-effluent water at WWTPs.

Eleven of the 57 targeted CECs were detected in bed-sediment samples collected at study sites on the Trinity River. Of these 11 CECs, only 2 (beta-sitosterol and cholesterol) were detected in bed-sediment samples at all 5 sites on the Trinity River. Nine of these 11 CECs were not detected in any water-column sample, likely because of the strong hydrophobic characteristics of these compounds.

Results from water treatment plants indicate that the water treatment process is less effective for removing or degrading compounds that are engineered to be resistant to degradation. These results also indicate the presence of CECs and EDCs at locations upstream from PWTPs in Dallas. Results from Trinity River main-stem sites indicate that some compounds are naturally attenuated during transport, but a few are persistent throughout the study reach. Many CECs and EDCs are hydrophobic and were only detected in bed sediment, indicating multiple pathways through which CECs can persist in the environment.

In general, concentrations of CECs in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area were similar to those found in metropolitan areas nationwide.

Suggested Citation

Churchill, C.J., Baldys, S., III, Gunn, C.L., Mobley, C.A., and Quigley, D.P., 2020, Compounds of emerging concern detected in water samples from potable water and wastewater treatment plants and detected in water and bed-sediment samples from sites on the Trinity River, Dallas, Texas, 2009–13: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2019–5019, 57 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Detections, Concentrations, and Distributions of Compounds of Emerging Concern
  • Summary
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Compounds of emerging concern detected in water samples from potable water and wastewater treatment plants and detected in water and bed-sediment samples from sites on the Trinity River, Dallas, Texas, 2009–13
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2019-5019
DOI 10.3133/sir20195019
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Texas Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 57 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Texas
City Dallas
Other Geospatial Trinity River
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details