Contaminants of emerging concern

People and industry use tens of thousands of chemicals in industrial and household products and applications. A vast array of these chemicals have been found in the environment, where we consider them contaminants of emerging concern or CECs. Most of these CECs have not been fully evaluated for the risks they might pose to the environment, to plants, fish, wildlife — or to us.

Where do we find CECs?


MPCA and other researchers have been looking for CECs in surface water, wastewater effluent, groundwater, stormwater, and fish for over a decade. Monitoring for these compounds can help us understand to what extent these contaminants are entering the environment.

PFCs: During the last 15 years or so, scientists have found trace levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) nearly everywhere in the environment. Low levels are found in people and animals around the globe. Find out more: Perfluorochemicals (PFCs)

So what's the big deal?

Chemicals present in the environment may have a variety of adverse impacts on aquatic life. For example, some contaminants have the ability to disrupt the endocrine system or other biological systems. However, we don’t know much about the risks these contaminants pose to ecological health, or how concerned we should be relative to other environmental concerns.

The MPCA developed new methods to help us understand the risks of the CECs we have found in Minnesota. The aquatic toxicity profile (ATP) will help us put our data in context in terms of risk to aquatic life, and will be used to make more informed decisions about our monitoring and pollution prevention programs.

That's fine for the fish, but what about people?

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) evaluates how Minnesotans might be exposed to CECs and the potential health impacts of CECs in drinking water. MDH develops health-based guidance for CECs that have the potential to enter Minnesota waters and provides risk context through outreach and education. This work includes methods for assessing CECs that are poorly studied thereby allowing the state to response to new environmental hazards.

What is the MPCA doing to reduce pollution?

The MPCA has been investigating Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, and groundwater to determine how common these CECs are in the environment. This work has shown that chemicals in the medicines we take, in our shampoos, lotions and detergents, and other familiar products are found widely in Minnesota waters, though at low concentrations.

How can I make a difference?

The choices we make every day may have long-term consequences for ecological health. There are many ways you can reduce your personal impact on our valuable aquatic resources. Here are just a few examples:

  • Dispose of medications properly
    Medicines flushed down the drain can contaminate our lakes and streams, which can hurt fish and other aquatic wildlife, and end up in our drinking water.
  • Avoid products with microplastics
    Hundreds of personal care products such as hand soaps, toothpaste, and facial cleansers have tiny little plastic beads in them. Like many emerging issues, we are not sure of the long-term effects, but we suspect they will impact our aquatic ecosystems and human health.
  • Reduce chemical use in your home
    Chemicals are part of our lives. We treat illnesses, paint our houses, and even clothe ourselves with products that have been developed through chemical research. However, there are reasons to be cautious about our exposure to some chemicals.
  • Avoid using antibacterial soap
    Hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection. But which soap is best? Antibacterial or plain? Check out the Minnesota Department of Health's website.
  • BPA and BPS in thermal receipt paper
    Recent research shows that BPA and BPS used in many thermal receipt papers can be absorbed through your skin by handling receipts. These chemicals are known to be hazardous to human, fish, and other animal reproductive systems and is linked with obesity and attention disorders.