How to Stay Ahead of Pollution

The SFPUC’s Pollution Prevention Program held a workshop last May to discuss Constituents of Emerging Concern (CECs). Simply put, the CECs are the many different kinds of chemicals such as traces of medicines, personal care or household cleaning products, lawn care and agricultural products, among others. These can be detected in water ways, such as the Bay or Ocean. Consumers can prevent pollution through awareness of what’s in the products they buy.

In 2009, the SFPUC Pollution Prevention team developed a formal quantitative methodology to identify, prioritize, and update CECs. This proactive approach is performed every three years and ensures that the utility’s resources are sufficiently allocated to monitor the wastewater that enters the sewer system and ends up in our plants, above and beyond the regulated priority pollutants. In 2020, SFPUC staff from divisions across its wastewater enterprise convened to use this methodology to update CEC priorities. Although these chemicals are not required to be monitored as part of regulatory compliance, monitoring the San Francisco Bay area, there is an entire workgroup dedicated to CECs that is run by the San Francisco Estuary Institute

Green Science Policy Institute offers 6 classes educating on chemicals of concern.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these types of contaminants are increasingly being detected in water ways throughout the U.S., and there is concern that these compounds may have an impact on aquatic life. The working group identified the three top CECs specific to wastewater and are strategizing the most effective approach to reduce health and safety risks through wastewater treatment.

At the 2020 Constituents of Emerging Concern (CEC) Prioritization Workshop, the SFPUC evaluated a number of CECs, which were evaluated on their risk to humans and the environment, and ability to control these CECs from entering our water ways in the first place (also referred to as “source controllability”). Source control is when we control pollutants at their source. The Collection System Divisions in Wastewater Enterprise is dedicated to source control. One highlight from the 2020 workshop was that only one CEC rose to the tier of “high priority:” plastics. There was also a decrease from 2017 in the risk to operational impacts from plastics. Reduction strategies will be developed for priority CECs.

More than 100,000 chemicals have been registered and approved for commercial use in the U.S. San Francisco Estuary Institute have begun collecting toxicity data for a number of chemicals.

The SFPUC is pleased in knowing they are going above and beyond regulatory requirements, and Autumn Cleave, Pollution Prevention Specialist for the agency says it does not stop them from realizing how quick things can change:

“If we don’t prioritize this subject and keep educating the public on CECs, then we will start seeing these contaminates on the rise in our beautiful Bay and Ocean. When that happens, we will have a whole new set of issues to deal with. “

For more information on the CECs and what you can do, please visit San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Green Science Policy Institute. Every bit counts in keeping the environment clean and protected.