Bioaccumulation of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in birds and invertebrates

Open-water sewage lagoons provide important breeding and migratory stop-over habitat to bird communities, but may also be sources of contamination for breeding and foraging animals.  Contaminants of particular concern are pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), which are derived from prescription and non-prescription drugs, detergents, perfumes, cosmetics, and other domestic products.  PPCPs may affect physiology, behaviour, and other processes in wildlife, either through direct ingestion or through consumption of prey.  PPCPs may not be fully removed during sewage treatment, resulting in transfer to freshwater systems via effluent, and potentially to humans.

Project Overview

The purpose of this study is to examine the occurrence of PPCPs in invertebrates and the potential for transfer to birds breeding and foraging at two northern wastewater treatment facilities (Whitehorse and Crestview sewage lagoons) that are renowned “hotspots” for local bird diversity and abundance.  A pilot sampling program in 2013 confirmed that PPCPs are present in the water, sludge and invertebrates, in all stages of treatment, at the Whitehorse sewage lagoon.  Sampling in 2014 focused on i) quantifying the removal efficiencies of PPCPs between the three stages of treatment at the Whitehorse sewage lagoon; ii) quantifying the seasonal variation of PPCPs within treatment stages; and iii) quantifying the occurrence of PPCPs within invertebrates in the secondary stage of treatment.  Additional fieldwork focuses on establishing baseline data on the breeding bird assemblages present at the Whitehorse and Crestview sewage lagoons, including waterfowl and Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) breeding abundance and success.  Waterfowl use the Whitehorse and Crestview sewage lagoons for breeding and as migratory stop-over sites, and feed on invertebrates and vegetation at a variety of levels within the water column of the lagoons.  Tree Swallows are aerial insectivores that forage on invertebrates emerging from aquatic systems, and have been shown to be negatively affected by contaminants in prey items taken at or near sewage treatment facilities.

Fieldwork continues in 2015, with nest box monitoring and waterfowl brood surveys at both lagoons.

Project Team

Devon Yacura, M.Sc. student, University of Alberta

Dr. Kathryn Aitken, School of Science, Yukon College and Adjunct Professor, Dept. of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Co-supervisor

Dr. Fiona Schmiegelow, Professor & Director, Northern Environmental and Conservation Science Program, Dept. of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, and School of Science, Yukon College, Co-supervisor


Yukon Bird Club

City of Whitehorse

Canadian Wildlife Service-Environment Canada


Yukon College Research Fund

Yukon Research Centre

Yukon Bird Club

City of Whitehorse Environmental Grant

Yukon Environmental Awareness Fund