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Originally published July 1 2009

Artificial Sweeteners Stay in the Water Supply

by Michael Jolliffe

(NaturalNews) A new study investigating the ability of water treatment facilities to remove artificial sweeteners from municipal water supplies has found that significant amounts remain despite the implementation of high-tech industrial water purification.

Researchers from the Water Technology Centre in Karlsruhe, Germany examined levels of seven common sweeteners - acesulfame, saccharin, aspartame, cyclamate (currently banned in the US and Canada), sucralose, neotame and NHDC - using a new method that enables detection of the substances simultaneously. Analysis of the water samples revealed that up to 80% and 59% of sucralose and acesulfame remained respectively, despite treatment and advanced filtration. Acesulfame was found to be the most treatment resistant sweetener, with several hundred nanograms of saccharin and cyclamate also remaining.

"The persistence of some artificial sweeteners during soil aquifer treatment was demonstrated and confirmed their environmental relevance", wrote the scientific team in the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, before expressing concern that "the occurrence of such sweeteners in the aquatic environment may become an issue for consumers." [1]

The study authors cited the lack of research on the levels of artificial sweeteners in water as being a motivating factor behind their investigation. One previous study on sucralose, conducted by scientists from the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, also found industrial water treatment to be of limited efficacy in removing the sweetener from the municipal water supply with significant sucralose concentrations being found in each sample analyzed and at each of twenty-five treatment faculties investigated throughout Sweden. Writing in a report entitled 'Sucralose in surface waters and STP Samples', the Scandinavian team expressed particular anxiety that water levels may continue to build substantially over a long period of time due to the extremely slow rate at which sucralose breaks down in the environment. [2]

The sweeteners under investigation in the current study have been claimed to be related to a number of persistent health concerns. Of the five substances legally available for use in the US, acesulfame and saccharin have caused concerns over being linked to cancer with the former also cited as a cause of excessive insulin secretion. Aspartame and neotame have been linked with neurological illness, while sucralose has been studied in relation to migraine symptoms. Of the banned substances, there are concerns that cyclamate may decrease fertility in men. [3]

Lead researcher Marco Scheurer, along with co-researchers Frank Thomas and Heinz-Jurgen Brauch, conceded that the effect of such treatment-resistance substances on drinking water remains unknown but could be significantly influenced by potential metabolites of the sweetener pollutants.

[1] Scheurer et al. Analysis and occurrence of seven artificial sweeteners in German waste water and surface water and in soil aquifer treatment (SAT). Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. 2009 July. 394; 6: 1585-1594.
[2] Brorstrn et al. Measurements of Sucralose in the Swedish Screening Program 2007, Part I; Sucralose in surface waters and STP samples. IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, 2007.
[3] Takayama et al. Long-Term Toxicity and Carcinogenicity Study of Cyclamate in Nonhuman Primates. Toxicological Sciences. 2000. 53: 33-39 (2000)

About the author

Michael Jolliffe is a freelance writer based in Oxford, UK.

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