Catalan Water Research Institute research and innovation for the sustainable use of water

International scientists warn of the real and potential risk of emerging pollutants in water

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Millions of people receive drinking water every day with the risk that it contains, among other factors, pollutants derived from human or animal waste, pesticides, the wear and tear of the materials of existing pipes and infrastructures, or their inefficient management. Population growth has increased the use of products containing a greater number of chemical compounds. In fact 4000 new substances are added daily to the official catalog of chemical compounds. In the case of emerging pollutants, these are not usually monitored, due to the difficulty this entails, despite the suspicion that they may have an adverse effect on human health and ecosystems, and that they end up in waste water.

A working group of European scientists has noted in a recently published document the need to deal with the progressive increase in the level of emerging pollutants in water, and warns of the potential risk to human health. In the same way, they point out the need for a comprehensive review of the current legislation in order to introduce proactive measures that assess the increase of these pollutants and guarantee the sustainability of the water cycle with water suitable for its reuse, and the consequent benefit for the environment and society.

The scientists, of recognized international prestige in this field, have collaborated in a working group coordinated by the JPI de l’Aigua (Water JPI, Water Joint Programming Initiative), with the aim of reviewing, identifying gaps and consolidating the existing knowledge about the behavior of emerging pollutants in the environment… and their long-term impact on the health and lives of ecosystems and citizens.

As a result of this work, a report has just been published that provides an overview of current knowledge of emerging pollutants, existing methods of detection, and treatment options, with some key messages to continue progress in solving the problem . The intention is that the report will stimulate debate and collaboration between all the actors involved to bring about the necessary change. To complement the report, the working group has also designed a series of infographics that will be disseminated through social networks, with the aim of encouraging dialogue between citizens regarding the problem of emerging pollutants.

“It is crucial to act and disseminate knowledge to face this challenge, informing decision-makers, legislators, and other agents involved of recent scientific advances and innovations,” comments Dominique Darmendrail , coordinator of the JPI of Water and the French Research Funding Agency, ANR.

Spain is a pioneer in the field of research on emerging pollutants. The researchers Damià Barceló , director of the Catalan Water Research Institute (ICRA), Javier Marugán , professor and researcher at Universidad Rei Juan Carlos, have collaborated in the JPI de l’Agua working group. and Ignasi Rodriguez-Roda , ICRA researcher and professor at the University of Girona.

Among other existing examples at national level, a recent study carried out in collaboration between Universidad Rey Juan Carlos , the Polytechnic University of Madrid , the Catalan Water Research Institute , the Universitat Catòlica Portuguesa , FCC Aqualia and the IDAEA -CSIC , published in the international journal Science of The Total Environment , has analyzed the elimination of antibiotic substances and antibiotic resistance genes in urban waste water purification processes . The work carried out in a purification plant has made it possible to evaluate the large-scale use of different advanced treatment processes based on the use of UV light , both alone and in combination with oxidizing substances such as hydrogen peroxide (oxygenated water) or peroxymonosulfate . The results obtained have shown the capacity of these processes for the elimination of both antibiotics and genes, although the operating conditions of the treatment must be carefully optimized to achieve the treatment objective while keeping the costs of water purification.

The report is available on the JPI de l’Aigua website .

About JPI de l’Aigua (Water JPI)

The Water JPI is dedicated to addressing the ambitious challenge of achieving water systems for a sustainable economy in Europe and abroad. It does this through a multidisciplinary approach, which includes economic, ecological, social and technological considerations.

As of March 2019, JPI de l’Aigua included a total of 23 full member countries and three observer countries, which together represent 88% of European public investment in research, development and innovation in water resources. Eleven of them are contributing to the implementation of the Knowledge Hub on Contaminants of Emerging Concern (KHCEC)

The Water JPI has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Program for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration under Grant Agreement n°689271 (WaterWorks2015).

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