Standard Article

Unrecognized Pollutants

Surface Water Hydrology

  1. G. Fred Lee,
  2. Anne Jones-Lee

Published Online: 15 JUL 2005

DOI: 10.1002/047147844X.sw1601

Water Encyclopedia

Water Encyclopedia

How to Cite

Lee, G. F. and Jones-Lee, A. 2005. Unrecognized Pollutants. Water Encyclopedia. 3:371–373.

Author Information

  1. G. Fred Lee & Associates, El Macero, California

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUL 2005


The U.S. water pollution control program focuses on the current 126 priority pollutants originally selected without peer review in the mid-1970s through a litigation settlement. That notwithstanding, they remain the focal point of water quality investigations. Limited attention is given to the many thousands of potential pollutants that are in municipal and industrial liquid and solid wastes. Periodically, unregulated chemicals that are in use are discovered to be widespread pollutants, posing a significant threat to public health and the environment. One example is the pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) used in homes and in agriculture, which are being found in domestic and agricultural waste waters and solid wastes. Another is perchlorate found in highway accident flares. That chemical is being found in surface and groundwaters in concentrations that are a threat to human health. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are used as flame retardants on furniture and other materials, are now being found in human breast milk and in some aquatic organisms. Those chemicals pose significant environmental concerns but are not regulated with respect to water quality impacts. Many of these unrecognized pollutant chemicals are not new chemicals but rather have been in the environment for decades. A need exists to significantly change the approach used to evaluate the potential for the vast array of chemicals that are in commerce today to cause public health and environmental impacts.


  • priority pollutants;
  • pollutants;
  • polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs);
  • pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs);
  • perchlorate