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Alaska Beat

Blame it on the hipsters? Caffeine present in Northwest coastal water

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published August 5, 2012

A recently released NOAA-funded study reveals that ocean water off the United States' Northwest coast holds trace amounts of caffeine. The discovery, it turns out, although hilariously cliché given the region's reputation as a coffee Mecca, home to iconic brands such as Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee, plus countless boutique cafés and artisan roasters, is no laughing matter.

According to Portland State and Washington State University scientists, it's not so much the abundance of coffee drinkers who call the Pacific Northwest home that's behind the contamination, as much as it is how their waste is handled.

You see, caffeine is a substance that the body quickly absorbs, but does not store or accumulate. So, all caffeine eventually has to go (just as all humans do) somewhere . Thus, researchers from both universities believe that sewer- and septic-related runoff is directly responsible for the presence of caffeine in Northwest coastal zones.

Over a period of two years, the researchers collected samples from locations along the coast. They found that caffeine levels spiked following area storm surges, suggesting sewer overflow. According to Portland State University professor Elise Granek:

The results suggest that wastewater treatment plants are effective at removing caffeine, but that high rainfall and combined sewer overflows flush the contaminants out to sea. The results also suggest that septic tanks, such as those used at the state parks, may be less effective at containing pollution.

And, just in case you were looking for an argument, Granek adds:

Caffeine is found in many food and beverage products as well as some pharmaceuticals, and caffeine in waterways is directly related to human activity. Although many plant species produce caffeine, there are no natural sources of the substance in the Pacific Northwest. The presence of caffeine in ocean water may also signal additional pollution such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

For more read Portland State University's report here.

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