The role of the sewer system in estimating urban emissions of chemicals of emerging concern


The use of chemicals by society has resulted in calls for more effective control of their emissions. Many of these chemicals are poorly characterized because of lacking data on their use, environmental fate and toxicity, as well as lacking detection techniques. These compounds are sometimes referred to as contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). Urban areas are an important source of CECs, where these are typically first collected in sewer systems and then discharged into the environment after being treated in a wastewater treatment plant. A combination of emission estimation techniques and environmental fate models can support the early identification and management of CEC-related environmental problems. However, scientific insight in the processes driving the fate of CECs in sewer systems is limited and scattered. Biotransformation, sorption and ion-trapping can decrease CEC loads, whereas enzymatic deconjugation of conjugated metabolites can increase CEC loads as metabolites are back-transformed into their parent respective compounds. These fate processes need to be considered when estimating CEC emissions. This literature review collates the fragmented knowledge and data on in-sewer fate of CECs to develop practical guidelines for water managers on how to deal with in-sewer fate of CECs and highlights future research needs. It was assessed to what extent empirical data is in-line with text-book knowledge and integrated sewer modelling approaches. Experimental half-lives (n = 277) of 96 organic CECs were collected from literature. The findings of this literature review can be used to support environmental modelling efforts and to optimize monitoring campaigns, including field studies in the context of wastewater-based epidemiology.

Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s11157-022-09638-9.

Authors: Caterina Zillien, Leo Posthuma, Erwin Roex, Ad Ragas
; Full Source: Re/views in environmental science and bio/technology 2022;21(4):957-991. doi: 10.1007/s11157-022-09638-9.