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From pharmaceuticals to personal care products, the items we use on a daily basis have changed drastically in the last 20 years- so much so, that we are finding new contaminants in wastewater that would not have been present before. Some of the effects of these chemicals are not yet known but research is being carried out into the potential risks they may pose. One thing is sure, as new contaminants emerge, new technologies must be present to deal with them.
We live in a world where most men and women alike have a favourite shampoo, a preferred moisturiser or a deodorant of choice. Even if we don’t have a favourite, we tend to think of these personal care products as essentials nowadays rather than luxuries. As well as change in hygiene and beauty habits, medical and veterinary advancements have seen new pharmaceuticals come to market for the treatment of humans and animals.
As a whole these products are referred to as PPCPs (pharmaceuticals and personal care products). The progression in medical and veterinary practices, as well as the increased choice in beauty products, are very positive however, the full extent to which PPCPs may affect water bodies is not yet known. The same applies for other chemical compounds such as pesticides and firefighting foams. Therefore, we must tread with care and ensure that as many contaminants as possible are removed from water sources.
Not only have new habits affected the amount of PPCPs and other contaminants found in water bodies, but new analytical techniques have meant more visibility of the contaminants that may have been there before. Previously detection levels were parts per million (ppm) however new equipment can trace chemicals to parts per billion (ppb) and even parts per trillion (ppt).
These contaminants can reach water sources in a number of different ways; these include but aren’t limited to passing through defecation, flushing down the toilet and unsafe disposal which results in contaminants being transported in surface water run-off. Most Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) across the globe are conducting research into the effects of PPCPs and other emerging contaminants. What makes this so difficult is that each chemical compound varies from the next, and the effects they could have on human health or the environment will also vary greatly. Nevertheless, just because a job is difficult, doesn’t mean it should be ignored.
In 1962, ecologist Rachel Carson published a book entitled ‘Silent Spring’ on the harmful effects of certain pesticides on the environment. At the time, this book was heavily criticised because of the usefulness of the principal pesticide in question, Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT. However, 10 years later, the US EPA issued a cancellation order for DDT based on its adverse environmental effects and the risk it posed to human life. Some years later in 2001, restrictions of production and use were place on DDT for all those party to the Stockhholm convention. Recent research has suggested that DDT has links to Alzheimer’s disease, further justifying these restrictions.
In order to learn from history, we mustn’t bury our heads in the sand. We need to explore the effects of our new habits and new medical advancements. We also must begin immediately to treat our water and extract any present contaminants. Advanced water treatment is often necessary as primary and secondary treatment methods aren’t often effective enough to remove these stubborn contaminants.
Three things are necessary to deal with emerging contaminants in water treatment: motivation, knowledge, and the correct technology.
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 WQA, Contaminants of Emerging Concern https://www.wqa.org/whats-in-your-water/emerging-contaminants [Accessed 11/12/2018]
 U.S EPA DDT - A Brief History and Status, https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/ddt-brief-history-and-status [Accessed 12/12/2018]
 NHS (2014) DDT pesticide exposure may up Alzheimer's risk, https://www.nhs.uk/news/neurology/ddt-pesticide-exposure-may-up-alzheimers-risk/ [Accessed 10/12/2018]