Emerging Contaminants

Emerging contaminants are chemicals that may be a threat to ecological and human health and are unregulated in a water quality context. These emerging contaminants come from a wide range of sources which may include, but are not limited to, personal care products, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals. After the source products are used, these chemicals find their way in to water bodies through runoff and stormwater or wastewater effluent. Some examples of emerging contaminants include: fipronil, which is an insecticide used on pets for flea treatments; fluorinated compounds, which are used to repel water and grease on clothing, make nonstick cookware, and grease-resistant fiber or paper products; and phenolic benzotriazoles (abbreviated as BZT-UVs) which are used in sunscreens to prevent skin damage and plastics to reduce degradation and discoloration.

Emerging contaminants are challenging to address because there often is limited information on how long they persist in the environment and the effects they may have on marine organisms. There are several State agencies, including the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board), the Department of Toxic Substances Control, and the Department of Pesticide Regulation that work to address emerging contaminants. The Ocean Protection Council works with our partner agencies to provide current data and expert guidance to inform our understanding of emerging contaminants.

How do we work on emerging contaminants?

Click on each strategy below to learn more.

  • SCIENCE GUIDANCE OPC works with the Water Board and other State agencies to ensure the best available science is used in state policymaking.

    Contaminants of Emerging Concern Expert Science Panel

    OPC and the Water Board have co-funded the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project to facilitate and administer an expert panel on emerging contaminants in state waters. Please see the featured initiatives and projects section below for more details. 

  • ADVANCING SCIENCE OPC has provided research funding to advance the scientific tools available to identify emerging contaminants in the environment.

    Screening for Emerging Contaminants in the Southern California Bight

    In 2018 OPC funded the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project to screen sediment and fish tissue samples from the Southern California Bight for emerging contaminants. Please see the featured initiatives and projects section below for more details.

Photo of a wave breaking in Carlsbad, California
Photo Credit: Todd Teetzel

Funding

Featured Initiatives and Projects

Screening for Emerging Contaminants in the Southern California Bight

In 2018, OPC funded the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project to screen sediment and fish tissue samples from the Southern California Bight for emerging contaminants using bioscreening techniques, and analyzing a subset of those samples using nontargeted chemical analysis to 1) determine whether bioscreening and nontargeted analyses are effective for large-scale screening or monitoring and 2) identify new emerging contaminants for further study.

Emerging Contaminants Expert Panel

OPC and the Water Board have co-funded the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project to facilitate and administer an expert panel on emerging contaminants in state waters. This expert panel will advise the State on the risks of emerging contaminants impacting human health and the environment in freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems, and will update recommendations to the Water Board on monitoring for emerging contaminants. The expert panel is expected to begin its work in 2020 and more updates will be posted on the OPC website as the panel’s work begins.