Steve Klaine: Water Quality


Stephen J. Klaine, Ph.D.
Professor and Interim Director
Institute of Environmental Toxicology (ENTOX)

One of our areas of research is looking at the impacts of contaminants on aquatic organisms.  We’re looking at things like copper, pesticides, pharmaceuticals; and how these things effect various aquatic organisms so that we can ultimately protect the aquatic environment.

Our work with copper, for example, has laid the foundation for a model called the Biotic Ligand model; and it may sound sort of sophisticated but it really is a very simple approach to how to set water quality criteria for copper in surface waters; and EPA now uses that for setting such criteria. So, it’s had implications there; and ultimately then it allows us it allows DHEC to regulate copper discharges in SC waters. 

Other compounds that we’ve been working with, we worked with pesticides in the past but more recently we’re working with pharmaceuticals.  You know the drugs that you take, the cosmetics that you use, the soaps that you use, all of these go down, either down the sink or down the toilet and ultimately they get into wastewater treatment plants.  Unfortunately, our wastewater treatment plants weren’t designed to degrade these compounds and there are impacts, subtle impacts, that don’t kill the organism but might change it’s behavior a little bit. For example, a pharmaceutical like Prozac, everybody’s heard of Prozac. Well, we’ve done work with Prozac in which when we exposed fish to Prozac over a long period of time, it turns out that they’re not quite as efficient at capturing their prey; and so how does this effect the fish and populations? Well, if a fish can’t eat well, can’t capture its prey, it’s not going to have the energy to reproduce.  Fish doesn’t reproduce .  Next thing you know you start to see population declines.  Who suffers from such declines?  Well, we don’t have as many fish for sport fishing for example.