Cream and Sugar with Your Caffeinated Sea Water?

When the first Starbucks opened in Seattle, we had no idea the spreading enthusiasm for coffee would one day lead to a briny brew. Plastic, clothing fibers and CO2 are not the only things ending up the sea. So is caffeine.

Scientists at Portland State University and Washington State University, Vancouver, found caffeine concentrations off the coast of Oregon. To their surprise, the substance was not always concentrated around population centers or pollution sources. In fact, they found coffee contamination in wilder areas, likely because wastewater-treatment plants have to adhere to higher standards than septic systems. They also discovered that caffeine levels spiked after storm-caused sewer overflows.

Since the Pacific Northwest has no sources of naturally occurring caffeine, its presence in coastal waters shows that waste from human sources is leaching into the sea. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the project’s funders, said in a news release: “The presence of caffeine in ocean water may also signal additional pollution such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals.”

Fish are not likely to become coffee lovers, but the presence of caffeine in the waters near Carl Washburne State Park in Florence and at Cape Lookout is another example of human habits affecting our wild neighbors.

Coffee is not the only source of caffeine. It is found in other beverages, many food products, and in some pharmaceuticals.

Marine animals are not just ingesting our coffee. They are absorbing the whole chemical soup. More research is needed before we will understand the consequences. In the meantime, the study raises concerns about inadequately treated wastewater entering our fresh and salt water resources.

Dana Kolpin of the U.S. Geological Survey has studied caffeine and other contaminants in streams near treatment plants. Speaking with National Geographic, she said of the new findings:

Aquatic organisms are getting hit with a soup of low-level contaminants.

Are there environmental or human-health consequences from exposure to these compounds or different mixtures of compounds? Obviously that’s the million-dollar question.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock


Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W5 years ago

I think this, like most things now, is more a result of overburdening the world with excess personage.

Really - If the world's population went back to around 1 1/2 billion, would we even be talking about this?

People - Quit Breeding! How many kids out there need parents? Having your own when there are so many in need of love and care is just your selfish need to re-create yourself.

Karen Martinez
Karen Martinez5 years ago

Ok, my cinnamon and vanilla in my cookies is affecting sea creatures, now my 2 cups of coffee a day are affecting them? Just goes to show how all of life is connected.

J.L. A.
j A5 years ago

so now not too much fish to keep caffeine levels OK besides avoiding mercury? Is the intent to scare us to avoid any normal food and trust laboratory created more?

Richard T.
Richard T5 years ago

thank you!

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Another factor from too many people.

Christine Stewart

Poor sea creatures- I don't know how they can survive all the toxins we pour into the ocean...

Virginia Peng
Virginia Peng5 years ago

How horrifying! But is should not really be a surprise. We have been polluting our waters for so many years. This is just another to add to the long list! I think those in sewage treatment, industry and many other sectors will need to investigate their waste each year. Since we are getting to be so much more aware of our behaviors, we just may have to have waste/lifestyle footprints checked out. It can go on the list of to-do right next to filing our tax returns. We cannot continue to wait for research reports like this one about caffeine to point out the consequences of our indulgences. We all must take more responsibility for the wastes.

Nicole Weber
Nicole W5 years ago


Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak5 years ago

Where is the caffeine coming from. I drink the coffee I make. The caffeine is metabolized and does not get eliminated in the urine. Caffeine is used to kill frogs in Hawaii. Maybe that is where it is coming from, misuse like nitrogen fertilizers.

Isabel A.
Isabel Araujo5 years ago

We humans are contaminating everything we touch... So sad...