Rachel Cernansky: Artificial sweeteners and polluted water

ENSIA:

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Artificial sweeteners pop up in products all over the grocery store, from diet soda to yogurt, to help people keep calories down and pounds off. It turns out their popularity has given artificial sweeteners — sucralose in particular — a purpose beyond helping with weight or carb control. Sucralose, and to some extent acesulfame, may also play a role in keeping water contamination down by helping researchers and water resource managers identify hot spots of pollutants in order to better manage them.

Sucralose is increasingly being used as what experts call a “tracer” — a substance that can help identify where contamination comes from. This ability is important for maintaining water quality, both in surface waters and in drinking water supplies...

A bigger concern is that sucralose concentrations will only increase, and it’s unclear what that will mean for ecosystems. Even less well-studied may be the effects of the compounds that form when sucralose does break down, which occurs to some extent despite how stable it is.