Who knew? Spices used in baking increase in waterways around winter holidays

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

All that vanilla and cinnamon that people use in their Thanksgiving and Christmas baking can be detected in treated sewage that is released into local water bodies.  Scientists first discovered this in Puget Sound in Washington state, when they found increased levels of vanilla and cinnamon in treated sewage being released into the sound between Nov. 14 and Dec. 9.

” “Even something as fun as baking for the holiday season has an environmental effect,” said Rick Keil, an associate professor of chemical oceanography. “When we bake and change the way we eat, it has an impact on what the environment sees. To me it shows the connectedness.” ”

Scientists don’t know if these spices are affecting aquatic life, but they could have some effect because fish use their sense of smell to locate food, and some fish, like salmon, use smell to locate their home stream for spawning. The scientists came up with an estimate that residents of Seattle and surrounding areas ate about 160,000 cookies with vanilla each day, and 80,000 cookies with cinnamon daily during the Thanksgiving weekend.

You may have heard about the increased concentrations of antibiotics and medicines in our waterways from people using them or flushing unused pills down the toilet.  It turns out that perfume and caffeine can also be detected in treated sewage.  I doubt people will change their consumption of baked goods with spices over the holidays (that would make for a less enjoyable holidays, indeed) but knowing that we can detect so many substances in our water, even after it is treated at treatment plants, should make us a little more thoughtful about what goes down our drains.


The following two tabs change content below.
Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.