Clean water, now and in the future

KWR is a specialist in the detection, research and removal of undesirable substances, such as pharmaceutical residues and microplastics. Among the accomplishments of our researchers in 2019, was the application of a new adsorbent capable of removing pharmaceutical residues from wastewater at-source. And thanks to advanced laser techniques, we are now able to assist the water sector in dealing with microplastics.

Detecting, researching and removing substances

Clean water from the tap is something that is very normal in the Netherlands – and should remain so in the future. But this clean drinking water cannot be taken for granted. In surface water – one of the sources for the production of drinking water – all kinds of substances are being found that don’t belong in our drinking water.

KWR is a specialist in the detection, research and removal of undesirable substances, such as pharmaceutical residues and microplastics. Researcher Roberta Hofman: ‘Because we have worked with the drinking water utilities over the decades, we have a very clear picture of drinking water production. In addition, we have knowledge about the entire water cycle. We can therefore offer our client a complete package.’

Tackle at the source

In 2019, KWR conducted several research projects into the quality of drinking water sources and their improvement. For instance, a pilot study was done on the emission of pharmaceuticals into surface water. Patients at the University Medical Centre Utrecht, as well as staff from the Limburg Water Authority, took part by putting an adsorbent ball into the toilet every time they used it; the adsorbent acts as a carrier for any pharmaceutical residues present, thus improving the effectiveness of the subsequent water treatment.

Another KWR research project that attracted a lot of attention was a survey study, which showed that the number of substances and the concentrations of emerging contaminants in surface water and groundwater is exerting pressure on the quality of drinking water sources. KWR was commissioned to carry out this scientific research by the Dutch drinking water utilities and the Association of Dutch Water Utilities (Vewin).

Microplastics and emerging contaminants

When it comes to microplastics, KWR has also made some major progress since last year. Thanks to the acquisition of advanced laser equipment, our laboratory is capable of measuring the quantities and composition of microplastics.

Up until now, this capability didn’t exist anywhere in the Netherlands, which stood in the way of finding solutions to this emerging problem. Drinking water sources can now be analysed for the presence of microplastics – the initial results are expected in 2020 – and it will become clear how the pollution can be removed during treatment.

Besides these developments, researcher Roberta Hofman sees big benefits in the modelling techniques for emerging contaminants. ‘Based on mathematical calculations, we are getting better and better at predicting how emerging contaminants behave during water treatment. This cuts costs and increases effectiveness.’