How much do perfumes pollute? A study at Ca’ Foscari in the Lagoon of Venice
How much do perfumes pollute? The Lagoon of Venice is the first pioneering study carried out by researchers at Ca’ Foscari University on the presence in the environment of certain fragrances chemically produced by humans and widely used in everyday life.
Soaps, detergents, shampoos and many other personal care products contain mixtures of ‘odorous’ molecules that have passed safety tests for human health, but little or nothing is known about their impact on the environment.
Researchers at Ca' Foscari University of Venice and the Institute for the Dynamics of Environmental Processes of the National Research Council (IDPA-CNR) looked for these substances in the canals of Venice and found traces of these molecules, referred to as ‘perfumes’ among the ingredients of products that we use daily. The results were published in the journal “Science of the Total Environment”.
Between April and December 2015, the scientists repeatedly collected water samples from 22 places between the inner canals in the historic centre of Venice, the island of Burano and at two sites in the far-north lagoon. They looked for the presence of 17 among the most used andchemicallystable fragrances of the thousands available to the cosmetics industry.
Traces of ‘scented’ molecules were identified in all sampling sites, including those more distant from inhabited areas, with concentrations up to 500 times higher in the inner city canals. Samples collected during conditions of low tide in Venice and Burano showed concentrations comparable to those of untreated waste water.
In Venice, a city not served by a sewerage system, wastewater treatment through biological tanks which then discharge directly into the canals seems an insufficient method to reduce the concentrations of these molecules. For example, one of the compounds most frequently found in the waters of the lagoon was benzyl salicylate, a known allergen which must be indicated on the labels of cosmetic products which contain it.
How long do these fragrances persist in the environment? What is their impact on our ecosystems? These and other questions remain open and further studies are needed to answer them, as stated by Marco Vecchiato, post-doc at the Department of Environmental Sciences, Informatics and Statistics of Ca’ Foscari University and research creator: “Ours is a pioneering study on the persistence of a new class of potential contaminants in the environment. The direct connection between the urban and natural environment makes Venice and its lagoon ideal for the study of these compounds”.
“After this first analysis – adds the researcher – we can confirm that fragrances are released continuously into the canals of Venice, both during high and low tide and both in the historic centre and the lagoon. According to our data, however, the concentrations seem to be below the threshold for acute toxicity to marine organisms, but we don’t know the consequences of prolonged exposure to low doses of these substances. This study is therefore the first step toward understanding their environmental fate”.
The scientific article with the results of the study carried out at Ca’ Foscari University entitled “Fragrances as New Contaminants in the Venice lagoon” was signed by researchers Marco Vecchiato, Simone Cremonese, Elena Gregoris, and Elena Barbaro, and professors Andrea Gambaro and Carlo Barbante.