Reducing aquatic micropollutants – Increasing the focus on input prevention and integrated emission management

Pharmaceuticals and many other chemicals are an important basis for nearly all sectors including for example, food and agriculture, medicine, plastics, electronics, transport, communication, and many other products used nowadays. This comes along with a tremendous chemicalisation of the globe, including ubiquitous presence of products of chemical and pharmaceutical industries in the aquatic environment. Use of these products will increase with population growth and living standard as will the need for clean water. In addition, climate change will exacerbate availability of water in sufficient quantity and quality. Since its implementation, conventional wastewater treatment has increasingly contributed to environmental protection and health of humans. However, with the increasing pollution of water by chemicals, conventional treatment turned out to be insufficient. It was also found that advanced effluent treatment methods such as extended filtration, the sorption to activated charcoal or advanced oxidation methods have their own limitations. These are, for example, increased demand for energy and hazardous chemicals, incomplete or even no removal of pollutants, the generation of unwanted products from parent compounds (transformation products, TPs) of often-unknown chemical structure, fate and toxicity. In many countries, effluent treatment is available only rarely if at all let alone advanced treatment. The past should teach us, that focusing only on technological approaches is not constructive for a sustainable water quality control. Therefore, in addition to conventional and advanced treatment optimisation more emphasis on input prevention is urgently needed, including more and better control of what is present in the source water. Measures for input prevention are known for long. The main focus though has always been on the treatment, and measures taken at the source have gained only little attention so far. A more effective and efficient approach, however, would be to avoid pollution at the source, which would in turn allow more targeted treatment to meet treated water quality objectives globally. New developments within green and sustainable chemistry are offering new approaches that allow for input prevention and a more targeted treatment to succeed in pollution elimination in and at the source. To put this into practice, engineers, water scientists and chemists as well as microbiologists and scientists of other related disciplines need to cooperate more extensively than in the past. Applying principles such as the precautionary principle, or keeping water flows separate where possible will add to this. This implies not minimising the efforts to improve wastewater treatment but to design effluents and chemicals in such a way that treatment systems and water environments can cope successfully with the challenge of micropollutants globally (Kümmerer et al., 2018). This paper therefore presents in its first part some of the limitations of effluent treatment in order to demonstrate the urgent need for minimising water pollution at the source and, information on why source management is urgently needed to improve water quality and stimulate discussions how to protect water resources on a global level. Some principles of green and sustainable chemistry as well as other approaches, which are part of source management, are presented in the second part in order to stimulate discussion.

Authors: Kümmerer K, Dionysiou DD, Olsson O, Fatta-Kassinos D. ; Full Source: Science of the Total Environment. 2018 Oct 17; 652:836-850. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.10.219. [Epub ahead of print]