Samples of wastewater were taken from seven wastewater-processing plants in Arizona. For at least 48 days, the water was run through both anaerobic and aerobic biological batch reactors, systems designed to use natural processes to break down wastes. None of the samples showed a significant decrease in the amount of sucralose present.
Another set of experiments looked at the effects of chlorine, ozone, and ultraviolet light on the sucralose. Those three methods are used in the final stages of wastewater treatment, but none proved effective at breaking down sucralose.
The resilience of sucralose may be a good thing in some ways. The researchers note that its resistance to degradation keeps it from breaking down into highly toxic chlorinated compounds.
Sucralose could even be used to label water sources and trace wastewater as it flows into the environment.
Sucralose is already in more than 4000 products and the number of new products containing it increased by 14 percent in 2010. As the artificial sweetener continues to grow in popularity, we may want to keep an eye on where it ends up. It may well be there for a long time.