Emerging contaminants are a possible threat to the public health and environment. KWR develops smarter, more efficient and cost-effective methods to measure and assess contaminants in water. This helps the water sector to realistically assess the human and environmental risks of emerging contaminants, and make decisions about water treatment.
Emerging contaminants as a challenge to the water sector
Thousands of emerging contaminants are used every day, and new ones are continually put on the market. Moreover, increasingly effective detection techniques are revealing the presence, in surface water for instance, of low concentrations of contaminants, whose presence was previously unknown. All these chemical compounds are used for a wide variety of purposes in sectors ranging from industry to medicine. The substances and their transformation products include groups that are possibly harmful to humans and the environment. Knowledge is needed to determine what the emerging contaminants might mean for the water sector.
Whether emerging contaminants end up in the water, and what effect this might have on human health and the environment is often unknown beforehand. When treating water, the water companies want to know which substances they need to focus on. This requires advanced chemical-analytical techniques and bioassays, as well as innovations in prioritisation and risk assessment.
Signalling and prioritising
KWR develops smarter, more efficient and cost-effective methods to measure substances in water – as in the case of surface water, but also sewage water, in which pharmaceutical and drug residues are detected. We assess the toxicological risks, establish indicative health guidelines and determine the behaviour of emerging contaminants during treatment. We also examine how these substances can be removed from the water if necessary. Our researchers are trained both in the signalling and prioritising emerging contaminants in the watercycle.
New techniques, such as broad screening using high-resolution mass spectrometry, provide a more complete picture of water quality. Our researchers develop databases and methods to determine which substances are relevant. We also work on the further identification and quantification of the prioritized substances. In combination with bioassays, this permits us to determine the impact of emerging contaminants on public health or the aquatic environment, for instance.
Realistic risk assessment
KWR’s knowledge and skills help water companies, water boards, municipalities and industry to realistically assess the environmental and human risks of emerging contaminants, and make decisions about water treatment. The periodic monitoring of water quality can signal possible anomalies early on, allowing for the implementation of appropriate measures.