Mercyhurst Assistant Professor of Chemistry Amy Parente, Ph.D., and several students are investigating levels of a chemical known as sucralose in water around Presque Isle State Park.
Sucralose is used as an artificial sweetener in many products including diet soda and candy. It is similar enough to sucrose, or sugar, that the body treats it as sugar, but the three chlorine groups it contains makes the body unable to digest sucralose. This means that sucralose comes out of the body as it goes in and is released into the environment.
According to research, sucralose does not seem to be harmful to humans as it does not build up in the human body. However, because it is released into the environment and particularly the water system, the effect there is less well known. One concern is that increasing sucralose levels in lake water at Presque Isle may affect foraging habits of the organisms that live there.
“One concern about increasing sucralose levels in the lake water is that it can provide a false signal for nutrient availability,” said Parente. “This can result in (food-seeking) behavior by aquatic organisms that rely on taste to determine the amount of food in their environment which can have negative implications on their reproduction and ability to survive.”
Parente and the students are concerned that there has been too little study on the effects of sucralose in water levels.
“In the spring we found approximately 150 parts per trillion in Lake Erie,” junior Gregg Robbins-Welty said.
One of the main reasons they applied for a grant to continue testing waters at Presque Isle is that they have, as of yet, only tested beach water.
“There are literally hundreds of substances that have limited negative impact from a human standpoint because they are eliminated from our bodies,” said Parente on the lack of research existing about the environmental effects of sucralose. “This means they are introduced into the environment without significant modification and are polluting our aquatic ecosystems.”
The group is currently trying to find better techniques and methods for detecting sucralose and also expand their testing area. Parente wishes to look into water samples coming into treatment plants and samples going out into Lake Erie for presence of the chemical as well.
“I am excited that my senior research project is one that may help preserve the environment locally,” senior Juliane Harmon said.
Parente agrees with Harmon, citing a quote from Dr. Seuss.
“Dr. Seuss summed it up best in saying: ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not,’” Parente said.
The study is on-going as Parente and the students continue to test for sucralose and its potential negative effects on the environment at Presque Isle.