The sweeteners were found in waters downstream of the treatment plants and researchers who authored the paper warn that the chemicals may appear in drinking water supplies.
The study demonstrates for the first time, that a number of commonly used artificial sweeteners are present in German waste and surface water.
With their new analytical method that extracts and analyses many chemicals simultaneously, three scientists from the Water Technology Center were able to demonstrate the presence of several artificial sweeteners in waste water.
Their findings were published online Wednesday in Springer’s journal "Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry."
Scientists Marco Scheurer, Heinz-Jürgen Brauch and Frank Thomas Lange collected water samples from two sewage treatment plants in Germany – Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen and Karlsruhe.
They also collected samples from a soil aquifer treatment site located in a Mediterranean country that treats secondary effluent from a sewage treatment plant.
Through the use of the new method, the researchers were able to look for seven different artificial sweeteners - cyclamate, acesulfame, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, neohesperidin dihydrochalcone and sucralose - simultaneously.
Patrons of a Karlsruhe cafe (Photo by TBee)
Until now, only sucralose has been detected in aquatic environments.
The tests detected four - acesulfame, saccharin, cyclamate, and sucralose - of the artificial sweeteners in the waters from the two German sewage treatment plants, indicating incomplete elimination during waste water treatment, the authors said.
Their analyses also found these chemicals in rivers and streams receiving water from the two sewage treatment plants.
The authors then compared the conventional waste water treatment by sewage treatment plants with advanced waste water treatment by soil aquifer treatment. Traces of artificial sweeteners were present in both cases, evidence that water purification was incomplete.
Scheurer said, "Due to the use of artificial sweeteners as food additives, the occurrence of artificial sweetener traces in the aquatic environment might become a primary issue for consumer acceptance."
Artificial sweeteners, which add sweetness without calories, are used in many food products from sodas to breakfast cereals, as well as in drugs and sanitary products.
They are from 160 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar and the body does not fully absorb them, so a residue is excreted into waste water.
The potential health risks of artificial sweeteners have fueled a long-running debate.
Dr. Betty Martini of the U.S.-based anti-aspartame advocacy group Mission Possible International calls aspartame, "an addictive excitoneurotoxic, genetically engineered, carcinogenic that interacts with virtually all medications."
As evidence, Martini cites research published in 2005 by the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center, European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences of Bologna, Italy.
At the conclusion of a three year study on 1,800 laboratory rats, lead author Dr. Morando Soffritti and five other scientists wrote, "The results of this mega-experiment indicate that APM [aspartame] is a multipotential carcinogenic agent, even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg body weight, much less than the current acceptable daily intake.
"On the basis of these results, a reevaluation of the present guidelines on the use and consumption of APM is urgent and cannot be delayed," they wrote.
This study, also reported in the March 2006 issue of the peer-reviewed U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences journal, "Environmental Health Perspectives," found significant increases in leukemias and cancerous lesions, particularly of the urinary tract in the group of rats fed aspartame.
On the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority said on April 20, 2009, "On the basis of all the evidence currently available ... there is no indication of any genotoxic or carcinogenic potential of aspartame and that there is no reason to revise the previously established ADI [allowable daily intake] for aspartame of 40mg/kg bw/day."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved five artificial sweeteners to date, and applications for approval of several more are pending.
Studies in laboratory rats during the early 1970s linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer. For this reason, the U.S. Congress required a warning label on foods containing saccharin from 1977, until subsequent studies showed that these results apply only to rats. In 2000, the Congress passed legislation to remove the warning label.
"Human epidemiology studies [studies of patterns, causes, and control of diseases in groups of people] have shown no consistent evidence that saccharin is associated with bladder cancer incidence," according to the National Cancer Institute, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.
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