Effects of anthropogenic inputs on the organic quality of urbanized streams

Kathryn N. Kalscheur, Rebecca R. Penskar, Allison D. Daley, Shannon M. Pechauer, John J. Kelly, Christopher G. Peterson, Kimberly A. Gray*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Due to arid conditions, population growth, and anthropogenic impacts from agricultural and urban development, wastewater effluent makes up an increasingly large percentage of surface water supplies promoting concerns about the potential ecological and human health effects associated with the organic quality of surface waters receiving treated wastewater discharge. Anthropogenic inputs alter the quality and quantity of organic carbon and also affect the ability of aquatic ecosystems to retain or transform carbon and other nutrients. In this paper, we use pyrolysis-GC/MS (Py-GC/MS) as a tool to examine whether the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in suburban streams influenced by anthropogenic inputs displays an organic signature that is structurally different from natural organic material (NOM). Py-GC/MS was not only able to differentiate among stream sites that received discharge from upstream wastewater treatment plants and those that did not, but also distinguished stream sites influenced significantly by storm water. Distinct organic signatures were evident in stream waters with upstream wastewater treatment plant discharges regardless of the distance from effluent discharge, indicative of the persistent nature of effluent-derived organic material (EfOM). The pyrolysis fragments of 3-methyl-pyridine, 2-methyl-pyridine, pyrrole, and acetamide were identified as indicators of EfOM, supporting previous research that has suggested that protein and aminosugar derivitives are possible wastewater markers. Furthermore, pyrolysis fragments associated with soil polycarboxylic acids correlated highly with stream sites having the least anthropogenic influences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2515-2524
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - May 15 2012


  • Anthropogenic markers
  • Effluent-derived organic material
  • Factor analysis
  • Principal component analysis
  • Pyrolysis-GC/MS
  • Wastewater markers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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