Project Title: Evaluating innovative technologies to reduce the impact of septic system contaminants on ecological keystone species

 Duration: 2/2024-2/2026

Funding Source: Woods Hole Sea Grant

Principal Investigator Lead Investigator / onsite-contact: Jed Goldstone, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Project Description: Contaminants of Emerging Concerns (CECs) are a diverse class of compounds with widely varying toxicological and chemical properties, commonly associated with municipal wastewater, urban storm water, agricultural run-off, and other non-point sources, which makes them difficult to monitor and regulate. Important classes of CECs are pharmaceuticals, detected in more than 80% of streams, and in coastal waters, and endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs). Septic system effluents are a suspected source of CECs to freshwater ponds, aquifers and drinking water supplies, and to coastal waters, because typical septic system designs do not provide much removal efficiency for most CECs. Innovative and alternative (IA) septic system systems designed for nitrogen remediation may provide significant co-benefit removal of CECs, particularly pharmaceuticals and EDCs.

Blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) and ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa) are foundation species in the New England intertidal that establish and maintain the key habitats that provide essential ecosystem services. However, there is an observed decline of both species in New England (>60% loss of blue mussels since 1970). CECs and EDCs can have biological effects at very low exposure concentrations, have been detected in coastal waters and animal tissue, and may be impacting populations of blue and ribbed mussels. Our work has shown that M. edulis is highly sensitive to pharmaceutical exposures, particularly steroid-like EDCs, and we suggest that these effects extend to closely related Mytilidae species such as G. demissa. The proposed research will examine the effects of septic effluent and septic field leachate on M. edulis and G. demissa sex ratios, and directly test the ability of IA systems to reduce compounds that affect sex gene expression.