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The Pacific Ocean Is Polluted With Coffee 294

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the marianas-trench-starbucks-grand-opening dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with this excerpt from Inhabitat:"People aren't the only ones getting a jolt from caffeine these days; in a new study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, scientists found elevated concentrations of caffeine in the Pacific Ocean in areas off the coast of Oregon. With all those coffee drinkers in the Pacific Northwest, it should be no surprise that human waste containing caffeine would ultimately make its way through municipal water systems and out to sea – but how will the presence of caffeine in our oceans affect human health and natural ecosystems?"
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The Pacific Ocean Is Polluted With Coffee

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  • by hardburlyboogerman (161244) <kwsmith41747@windstream.net> on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:03AM (#40901919) Homepage Journal

    if you check closelyy enough,most other waterways are,too

    • Re:Bet Ya (Score:5, Funny)

      by msauve (701917) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:54AM (#40902221)
      Caffeine in the water? This should be a wake up call!
    • Re:Bet Ya (Score:4, Funny)

      by klingers48 (968406) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:30AM (#40902351)
      The worst we'll probably see is mackerel that can outrun fishing trawlers.

      Good for them I say.
  • The fishies will be swimming stupidly faster with more energy!

  • by deodiaus2 (980169) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:11AM (#40901957)
    More like "engergized"?
    What do you think we caffeine drinkers should call ourselves?
  • Mmmmmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:12AM (#40901969)

    Caffeinated sushi. *drool*

  • Amounts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:12AM (#40901971) Journal
    Neither the summary nor the linked article said the amounts, but they are listed in the original paper [sciencedirect.com]. In the ocean, they found 44.7 ng/L. "Caffeine concentrations in rivers and estuaries draining to the coast measured up to 152.2 ng/L." For those who like their numbers in ppm, I believe that's .0447 ppm and .1522 ppm, respectively. Sometimes I fail at math, though.
    • Re:Amounts (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NFN_NLN (633283) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:56AM (#40902231)

      In the ocean, they found 44.7 ng/L. "Caffeine concentrations in rivers and estuaries draining to the coast measured up to 152.2 ng/L." For those who like their numbers in ppm, I believe that's .0447 ppm and .1522 ppm, respectively. Sometimes I fail at math, though.

      Serious question: Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance... were they expecting 0g / L?
      What is the natural amount of ocean water caffeine; otherwise it is hard to judge the extent of the impact.

      • Good question, I couldn't find the answer in the abstract. Maybe you'd like to purchase the full paper and let us know? :)

        The water coming out of the rivers is significantly higher in caffeine levels though, which would indicate that something on the land is adding caffeine to the ocean. This study didn't estimate the amount that was coming from various sources, that requires further study.
      • by sFurbo (1361249)
        From TFA:

        Caffeine concentrations in nanopure water (blank) were 2.5 ng/L (SD = 2.0 ng/L). The reporting limit for caffeine was adjusted to account for blank detection. The adjusted reporting limit was determined by adding three times the standard deviation to the mean blank caffeine concentration (8.5 ng/L)[...]Coastal ocean samples from Coos Bay/North Bend and Astoria/Warrenton, two of the most populated areas on the Oregon Coast, both had caffeine concentrations below the reporting limit.

        So they did find ocean water with a concentration below the limit of detection.

      • Article says it's 2 ng/L in the North Sea. Where is the North Sea? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea [wikipedia.org]

        Highlights: Caffeine was detected in Oregon coastal ocean waters measuring up to 44.7 ng/L. Caffeine concentration did not correspond with human population density and pollution sources. Caffeine concentrations corresponded with storm event occurrence. Caffeine concentrations in rivers and estuaries draining to the coast measured up to 152.2 ng/L.

      • by sFurbo (1361249)
        Argh, I forgot: You never find 0 in analytical chemistry. You determine your limit of detection (the mean value in the blanks plus three times the standard deviation of the value in the blanks), which is the signal where you can confidently state the the compound is present.
      • This is one of those times where you fail.

        1 liter has a mass of 10^3 g
        1ng = 10^-9 g
        Therefore 44.7ng/L has a concentration of 44.7 * 10^-9 / 10^3
        = 44.7 * 10^-6 / 10^6
        = .0000447 ppm

        Similarly, 152.2 ng/L is equivalent to .0001522 ppm.

    • Re:Amounts (Score:5, Informative)

      by Namarrgon (105036) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:10AM (#40902291) Homepage

      By comparison, an average cup of coffee contains roughly 100mg, or a concentration of 400,000,000 ng/L.

    • Re:Amounts (Score:4, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:19AM (#40902321) Journal
      Also, someone should mention, in answer to the question, "how will the presence of caffeine in our oceans affect human health and natural ecosystems?" It won't, caffeine levels at .1522ppm are unlikely to affect the ecosystem in any way, it is such a small concentration. Betteridge's law still stands.
      • by billstewart (78916) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:39AM (#40902373) Journal

        There are chemicals that can kill fish at 3 parts per billion. There are other things like salt that don't bother them as much, but it's really variable.

        However, as other people have pointed out, there are lots of other chemicals getting dumped into the water system, including things like cocaine and prozac that have been processed through humans first. With caffeine, humans metabolize it so you wouldn't get much left, but there's all the caffeine in coffee grounds and waste coffee and soda.

        And it is Portland.

        • There are chemicals that can kill fish at 3 parts per billion.

          OK, some people have corrected my math, the correct number is 152 parts per trillion at the maximum measured, so those fish are safe.

    • Re:Amounts (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NixieBunny (859050) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:36AM (#40902367) Homepage
      I believe that you're off by a factor of a thousand. A liter is a kilogram of water, so a nanogram per liter is one part per trillion, or million million as the Brits like to say.

      One hundred parts per trillion is rather difficult to measure, but these folks have found a way to do it.

      The question is: will a concentration that low have any effect on sea life?
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:17AM (#40902005)

    that human coffe/tea consumption and pee will have an effect on the world's oceans.

    Other human activities, yes, definitely. But not this.

    • by icebike (68054) *

      Exactly.

      A liter of espresso may contain as much as 2254 milligrams of caffeine. But when filtered through a human gut 5 to 10 milligrams/liter in urine is the usual norm for a three cup a day coffee drinker.

    • Think of the effect it'll have on Schneier's Friday squid blogging!
    • by Grayhand (2610049)

      that human coffe/tea consumption and pee will have an effect on the world's oceans.

      Other human activities, yes, definitely. But not this.

      It's a positive affect. Caffeine addiction with fish comes in handy. Just pour a shot of expresso in the water and it's like chumming for sharks. I've heard just waving a Starbucks label over the water will make the fish go bananas. I'd be careful about making them go cold turkey. The fish could get pretty surly.

      • by styrotech (136124)

        The fish could get pretty surly.

        As long as they don't get ill-tempered everything should be ok.

    • by NFN_NLN (633283) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:02AM (#40902259)

      that human coffe/tea consumption and pee will have an effect on the world's oceans.

      Q: Why did the hipster burn his lips drinking his coffee/tea?

      A: He wanted to drink it before it was cool...

    • by fermion (181285)
      It is unclear how much the chemicals we ingest effect the enviroment. For a while there was concern that the amount of vitamins Americans consume effect the waterways. Much of these chemicals are not metabolized but flow through the body and end up as waste. It is said that many Americans have the most expensive urine in the world. Then there is the high levels of estrogen detectable in the waterways. This could be from humans, but is probably more related to agriculture and industrial waste. Beef and
  • Synthetic Drugs? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bdabautcb (1040566) <bodaciouswagglerNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:19AM (#40902021)
    While this is not surprising and questionably news, I am a little more worried about the years and years of synthetic, biologically active drugs in the water. Birth control hormones don't exactly just disappear after you swallow them, and I know that they and other classes of petroleum based drugs have shown hormonal activity not only in mammals, but amphibians, fish, and birds. Though a world with huge breasted marine mammals would be cool, I am more concerned about the chemicals other than coffee that are following the same pathways and reaching the entire world. Miles deep into the ocean, thousands of miles through the atmosphere, there is really no where on the planet that has not been affected in at least a minor way by the expansion of human industry.
  • by icebike (68054) * on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:20AM (#40902025)

    Wiki says [wikipedia.org]

    Caffeine is metabolized in the liver by the cytochrome P450 oxidase enzyme system (to be specific, the 1A2 isozyme) into three metabolic dimethylxanthines. Further, In healthy adults, caffeine's half-life has been measured with a range of results. Some measures get 4.9 hours, and others are at around 6 hours.

    Therefore, it seems unlikely that the source of caffeine in the ocean is from human waste, since the time spent in the gut exceeds the half-life of caffeine, and when metabolized, its no longer caffeine. There is of course still some small remaining un-metabolized caffeine in urine. A liter of espresso may contain as much as 2254 milligrams of caffeine. But when filtered through a human gut 5 to 10 milligrams/liter in urine is unusual, and 15mg/l gets you bounced from most sports programs as a sign of abuse.

    It seems far more likely that the coffee poured out by restaurants, offices, and households, and the disposed of grounds being used for compost and gardening are a larger source than what comes out in the urine stream. Also the water Decaffeination processes is the source of the excess caffeine in city sewage, even though caffeine thus recovered can be marketed into the soft drink business, not all small operations bother with that.

    Quoting the first linked source:

    Caffeine occurrence and concentrations in seawater did not correspond with pollution threats from population density and point and non-point sources, but did correspond with storm event occurrence.

    So it seems to me that the caffeine is just as likely entirely natural, perhaps produced in very low quantities by some naturally occurring plants in the predominantly coniferous temperate rain forests of the area, rather than by any human activity or byproduct. Such a low production would leach out into streams and rivers during storms, but not from municipal sewers, and hence would not correspond to population density.

    • by icebike (68054) * on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:23AM (#40902049)

      Sorry, wiki only says the bit about:

      Caffeine is metabolized in the liver by the cytochrome P450 oxidase enzyme system (to be specific, the 1A2 isozyme) into three metabolic dimethylxanthines. Further, In healthy adults, caffeine's half-life has been measured with a range of results. Some measures get 4.9 hours, and others are at around 6 hours

      The rest was my posting error.

    • This got me curious.

      Apparently, according to different sources 50-100 plants produce caffeine in varying amounts, which makes sense as caffeine is an effective herbicide if you aren't trying to ward off primates with an inflated sense of self-importance.

      Narrowing to California, the first species I found that California clearly has was the leaves and flowers of orange trees, though the only exact number I could find was "caffeine is found at concentration levels of 11-17. 5 milligrams per liter, mostly
      • by icebike (68054) *

        Holly grows in the wild in Washington State, and I suspect, Oregon. But it is never plentiful or concentrated. I rather suspect it's some unassuming ground plant that nobody pays any attention to.

    • by Dunbal (464142) * on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @03:39AM (#40902721)

      Er you missed the part where caffeine is hydrosoluble. Since Wikipedia is no substitute for say, pharmacology classes in medical school, most of your assertions are irrelevant. While caffeine is metabolized by the liver like almost everything else: all small, hydrosoluble molecules are filtered out at the glomerulus and form part of the ultrafiltrate. Water soluble molecules are then not re-absorbed. Therefore while caffeine is metabolized in the liver, it and its metabolites are excreted via the urine. How much caffeine is metabolized and how much is excreted "as is" depends very much on dose, the patient's ability to metabolize it, and any exogenous factors (medication, etc) that could affect the rate at which the liver can break it down.

      The liver takes time to metabolize things and like any enzyme dependent process, it can be saturated. The filtration from the kidney however is a physical process. So long as blood flows through it that has caffeine in it, some of that caffeine is going to get filtered out. And because the kidney is pretty good at keeping water-soluble molecules out (you know, things like urea), once it's filtered it stays filtered. Lipid soluble molecules can always find a way to sneak back in on their own, but the other stuff (like say, glucose) ain't getting back in unless there's an active transport system to pull it back in.

  • by Chas (5144) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:23AM (#40902047) Homepage Journal

    *TWITCH!*TWITCH*

    I'd like to swim upstream and spawn, but the last time I tried it, I wound up in Lake Erie! Eww! And MAN is the wind cold at supersonic speeds!

    It took me almost a week to swim home! It would have happened faster, but I ran out of caffeine two-days from home. Hawaii was nice though.

    Now where was I?

    Oh yeah.

    WE'RE VERY AWAKE DOWN HERE GUYS!

    • by Mjlner (609829)

      WE'RE VERY AWAKE DOWN HERE GUYS!

      Just watch out for the sharks with frickin' lasers ON FRICKIN' CAFFEINE!!!

  • I could only read it and helplessly chuckle to myself thinking "Why, of course it is!".

  • by ShooterNeo (555040)

    It won't. Poison is all about the dosage. There's a LOT of water, and not much caffeine compared to that much water. Also, caffeine only works because it interfaces with specific receptors in our brains. It probably affects other mammals, but is not going to affect random fish or other aquatic life.

  • BS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jbolden (176878) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:36AM (#40902143) Homepage

    Not buying it.

    An 8 oz cup of coffee is 236.5 ml and has 49mg of caffeine. Assume the entire thing was thrown away undrunk at all. The population of portland is about 600k. If we assume that everyone in portland throws away one full cup of coffee every day for 100 years and that every drop ends up in the ocean, that's 21.9b cups of coffee or approx 1 billion grams of caffeine.

    100 years is plenty of time to diffuse. Its also plenty of times for caffeine to break down but less assume this were magic caffeine and so lasted the 100 years perfectly intact. Since they say the pacific ocean lets say none of it leaves the pacific for the other oceans. The pacific ocean is 7.721473366 × 10^21 liters. So cross multiplying (7.721473366 × 10^21× ) x (.049 g) / (.2365 l) us that that we are 1.6x10^20 grams so your billion grams falls 1.6x10^11 short. OK well lets assume that in addition to not breaking down it also doesn't diffuse. The Pacific is 361.1m kilometers in area. So lets assume that all the coffee hangs out for the entire century in the 2 kilometers nearest Portland, we still are short by 3 full orders of magnitude.

    There is no way a bunch of 600k humans use enough coffee for the ocean to notice.

    • while i agree with your calculations i have to say tea would be better for Portland it being the home of stash tea, and tazo. If your going to name a Pacific Northwest city known for coffee it should have been Seattle they are the home of Starbucks, Seatles Best, and Tully's coffee.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Bear in mind that this is "in waters off Oregon". That does NOT mean that the caffeine level measured there is representative of a uniform distribution throughout the entire ocean volume. While there is diffusion, it's not that fast. What's being seen is localized concentrations of caffeine, and that's a marker for other kinds of pollutants which are associated with it....pesticides, drug residues, etc. It's entirely plausible that you'd see such measurements in estuaries, river mouths and locations near po

  • Let's hope nobody dumps a bunch of frickin' lasers in the ocean too.
  • Ill-Tempered Sea Bass!
  • It's more likely that Starbucks set up a Spy-Who-Loved-Me-esque [wikipedia.org] secret under-sea base that serves as a combination processing plant where Jaws grinds beans for less than minimum wage and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos resides in a luxury suite off-shore tax haven.

    TFA goes on to note that high levels of caffeine have been detected in Boston Harbor, but they're not suggesting any link between the levels and the tea party.The whole article is dubious, given that it consists of four whopping paragraphs and two stoc
  • This explains Dory from Finding Nemo.
  • sharks with frickin' lasers...after a quad-shot of espresso

  • Surely the elevated levels of caffeine in the ocean .... must be a wake-up call!
  • Next thing you know mermaids [imageshack.us] will be serving coffee on every street corner.

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