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

The director of the ICRA and new honorary doctor of the UdL, Damià Barceló, warns of its increase following the COVID-19

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

In 2050 it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish, this is one of the conclusions made by the new honorary doctor of the University of Lleida (UdL), Damià Barceló Cullerés, director of the Catalan Research Institute Water ( ICRA ), in his investiture speech. Barceló, a doctor in analytical chemistry, has warned of the volume of production and consumption of plastic in the world, figures that have worsened considerably following the COVID-19 due to the massive use of masks, gloves and medical equipment, among others.

“We all know that the detection of the virus is done by q-PCR but what we don’t know is that each measurement generates 37 grams of plastic. Thus, until August 2020, 15,000 tons of plastic had been generated worldwide alone due to the PCRs”, he explained. The solution for Barceló is to eliminate single-use plastics, produce more biodegradable plastic, develop more legislation in this area, the involvement of society and NGOs and repeat many programs to monitor microplastics. Precisely, it will be the environmental monitoring programs with professionals from different fields (chemistry, ecology, ecotoxicology, hydrology, hydromorphology, etc.) that are renewed with technology that allows identifying new pollutants, such as nanomaterials, the key element for water quality, without forgetting, however, the improvement in the treatment of waste water, he pointed out. “The reuse of water is becoming more and more important everywhere and every day it gains more momentum especially in a water shortage scenario.”

In this sense, the director of ICRA also referred to the negative effects of climate change, since “not everything that happens in water, especially the effects on organisms, is the fault of chemistry”. The decrease in water flows due to the drought and the increase in temperature will make the pollution in the rivers higher, “just because of a concentration effect of the pollutants in the water”. Among them pesticides, one of the compounds that pose the greatest risk of toxicity. In his speech: Pollutants and water quality: the urgent challenge of a global and local vision, the ICRA director reviewed his scientific career focused on the identification and effects of new pollutants and on evaluation of technologies to reduce this pollution.

Damià Barceló Cullerés, native of Menàrguens and brother of the writer Joan Barcelona, has been sponsored by the professor of Geography at the UdL, Ramon Battle, which highlighted Barceló’s joint work with the River Dynamics Research Group (LAUGH) of the UdL in projects such asSCARCE on the effects of climate change on the rivers of the Iberian Peninsula. He emphasized its multidisciplinary spirit: “Thanks to researchers like him, who have gone in search of knowledge to the borders of their science with other disciplines, leaving their comfort zone, we know better systems as complex as rivers “, said Batalla.

Research professor at the Institute of Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies of the CSIC in Barcelona and also professor at the King Saud University (Saudi Arabia), Barceló has the Jaume I Prize for Environmental Protection (2007), the Prince International Prize Sultan Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabian Water (2012), and the Recipharm International Environmental Award (2012) and is an honorary doctorate from the University of Ioannina (Greece). His research career has focused on water quality, particularly on the development of methods to monitor the organic pollution of so-called emerging pollutants (pesticides, detergents, endocrine disruptors, drugs, antibiotics and other pharmaceutical products) in waters of ‘natural origin and residuals, and since 2010 he has been among the most internationally cited scientists.

These are some of the features of the professional career that the rector of the UdL, Jaume Puy , has highlighted for the new doctor honoris causa. Puy has praised not only the importance and solidity of his analytical work, which has upset the interests of large corporations “that do everything possible to preserve their business”, but its public interest side, such as the European directive 91/ 271 which required the treatment of urban waste water, as well as giving the possibility of developing public health studies based on data on pollutants in waste water. In this regard, the rector has stated that “his work is also being useful for monitoring the incidence of SARS-CoV-2”.

Puy also spoke in his speech about water, “one of humanity’s great concerns” and warned that overexploitation, pollution and climate change will generate serious problems of scarcity, especially in southern countries, due to the inequitable distribution of water in the world. “It is estimated that in 2025 more than two-thirds of humanity will suffer some stress due to lack of water,” said the rector. Puy, a chemist like Barceló, has called for everyone’s responsibility to preserve our waters and pointed out that it is necessary to work on water recycling, “because it is more profitable and easier to recycle fresh water than salt water, reuse – it and clean it for the different uses”.