17 Year Old Discovers Problems With Splenda Sweetener

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[Environment]
Leave it to a 17-year-old foreign student to run some tests on the popular sweetener sucralose that is Splenda, and find out that the substance does not seem to break down in normal wastewater treatment and might be around in our water supply for a long time, in possibly high enough concentrations to cause harm to people and animals..

People like sucralose - the artificial sweetener marketed as Splenda - because the human body can't break it down and use it. That means the substance has almost no calories and makes it a popular ingredient in everything from cookies to diet sodas. Unfortunately, it turns out that modern wastewater treatment methods don't break down Splenda either.

That, according to Smitha Ramakrishna, 17, one of 40 finalists in the 2009 Intel Science Talent Search who've gathered in Washington, DC, for the final judging rounds this week, means that the sweetener can accumulate in the water supply after people excrete it, potentially harming fish and other living things.

It's too soon yet to say what that will cause. Preliminary studies, Ramakrishna says, suggests that sucralose might poison fish in large enough concentrations. She plans to study this question more in college, potentially at A.S.U., where she continues to work, as do more than 10 high school students, now that she's broken the barrier. "It's opened a whole new door," she says.

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