‘Contaminants of Emerging Concern’ research programme begins

Today saw the start of a new research programme aimed at expanding our knowledge about the presence, hazards and removal of chemical substances from the watercycle. The programme is a collaboration between NWO-TTW, STOWA, KWR and TKI Water Technology. Among other aspects, KWR is responsible for the quality assurance of the analyses of the chemical substances.

More and more chemical substances are being produced and used all over the world. At the same time, increasing volumes of water are being abstracted for domestic, industrial and agricultural use. In the context of local water shortages, this exerts pressure on the quality of the water, so that thorough analysis, monitoring, impact assessment and measures are needed. The contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) are the subject of a new research partnership including NWO-TTW, STOWA, KWR and TKI Water Technology. The concern is primarily those substances that are often difficult to remove from wastewater and drinking water, such as pharmaceutical residues, antibiotics and plant protection products.

Collaboration in the water sector

The water sector plays an important role in the watercycle. The waterboards treat domestic wastewater and grant licences for the discharge of (industrial) wastewater. They are also responsible for the ecological and chemical status of the regional waters. The (drinking) water companies are responsible for the provision of healthy and safe drinking water, which they produce from surface water or groundwater sources. Both STOWA and KWR concentrate on the short- to medium-term research projects of waterboards, water companies, government and industry. Together with NWO-TTW and TKI Water Technology, both organisations are now focussing – even more than before – on the conduct of excellent scientific research into contaminants of emerging concern in water.

KWR’s role

The partnership programme involves five key research projects, and KWR is responsible for the quality assurance of the CEC analyses for all of them. This refers to the quality of the complete analytical procedure: from sampling to result reporting. A challenging task, in part because of the huge numbers and diversity of the CECs, the low concentrations and the complex matrices within which they are present, such as wastewater and sludge. There is a risk that different labs will generate different results. Good quality assurance is needed if reliable results are to be achieved.

As a co-initiator of the research programme, KWR is a member of the users committees of all of the five projects. Moreover Prof. Annemarie van Wezel, via her professorship at Utrecht University, is involved in one of the projects, EMERCHE, which aims to develop and implement new effect-based monitoring tools to assess the ecological and human-health risks of CECs in the watercycle.