Public Release: 

DMSO raises a stink at sewage treatment plants

American Chemical Society

Researchers believe they've found the source of a stinking problem that has plagued areas surrounding sewage treatment plants for decades. Much of the "rotten cabbage" smell near these facilities, they say, is likely caused by trace amounts of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) in waste water. The joint U.S.-German study will appear in the Jan. 1 issue of the American Chemical Society journal, Environment Science & Technology. DMSO, a common industrial solvent used in paint stripping, is not odorous or toxic. But bacteria in sewage can transform it into dimethyl sulfide, the chemical that causes a decaying cabbage or corn smell. Although most industrial DMSO is recycled, some of its residues can enter the waste stream, the researchers say. In addition, consumers who use household products containing DMSO may unwittingly contribute to the problem by flushing these products down the drain. It is likely, according to the researchers, that this problem affects a "significant" percentage of sewage treatment plants worldwide. The study was done by German chemist Dietmar Glindemann, Glindemann Environmental Services in Halle, Germany, John Novak, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and Jay Witherspoon, CH2M Hill in Oakland, Calif.

The American Chemical Society - the world's largest scientific society - is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. It's main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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The online version of the research paper cited above was initially published Nov. 25 on the journal's Web site. Journalists can arrange access to this site by sending an e-mail to newsroom@acs.org or calling the contact person for this release.

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