University of Waterloo scientists find artificial sweeteners in Grand River

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Grand River, Kitchener, OntarioScientists from the Faculty of Science and Environment Canada found the equivalent of 81,850 to 188,650 cans of diet soda pass through the Grand River to Lake Erie every day.

“If you think about all those cans of pop floating down the river, it’s quite an image,” said Professor Sherry Schiff, co-author on the study which examines the prevalence of four artificial sweeteners – sucralose, cyclamate, saccharin, and acesulfame – in the Grand River.

Professors Sherry Schiff and John Spoelstra are from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Science at Waterloo. Schiff is a member of the Water Institute at Waterloo. Spoelstra is a Research Scientist with Environment Canada.

The scientists analyzed samples from 23 stations along the Grand River and its tributaries. Because the Grand River provides drinking water for more that half-a-million residents in the region, municipal drinking water samples were also analyzed from the cities of Brantford, Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo.

Surprisingly, maximum concentrations of sucralose, cyclamate and saccharin in the Grand River were found to be the highest reported worldwide to date.

Artificial sweeteners are used as a sugar substitute in a variety of foods. They serve as ideal tracers of human wastewater because they exit the human body intact. Since they do not degrade easily, they pass through wastewater treatment plants where they are discharged to the local watershed.

“Artificial sweeteners are an extremely powerful wastewater tracer, whether from wastewater effluent or from groundwater influenced by septic systems,” said Spoelstra.

Next, researchers from the University of Waterloo and Environment Canada plan to use these tracers in groundwater to locate leaking septic and sewer systems.

The study was published this week in the online scientific journal PLOS One

Funding was provided through a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Strategic Project grant.

Science in the mediaThis story has appeared in the following news outlets:

  • The Globe and Mail, "Ontario's Grand River loaded with artificial sweeteners, study finds"
  • Water Technology, "High levels of artificial sweeteners found in Grand River"
  • Waterloo Record, "River loaded with diet sweeteners"
  • Guelph Mercury, "Grand River has highest levels of artificial sweetener pollution on record"
  • Huffington Post Canada, "Artificial Sweeteners In Ontario's Grand River 'Highest' In The World, Study Says"
  • Exchange Morning Post, "Major Canadian river contains artificial sweeteners"
  •, "Grand River has highest levels of artificial sweetener pollution on record"
  • Daily Mail (UK), "Canadian river artificially sweetened: researchers find elevated levels of sugar substitute compounds in waterways and drinking water"
  • Los Angeles Times - Science, "Artificial sweeteners found in river water and drinking supplies"
  • Albuquerque Journal News (US), "Artificial sweeteners can be used to track treated sewage, scientists find"
  • Toronto Star, "Grand River has highest levels of artificial sweeteners on record"
  • YAHOO! News Canada, "Ontario’s Grand River tests highest in the world for artificial sweeteners"
  • Water Canada, "Grand River Polluted with Artificial Sweeteners"
  • YAHOO! News, "Forget Your Own Health: Stop Drinking Diet Soda for the Good of the Great Lakes"