Occurrence of microplastics in raw and treated drinking water

Microplastics: new methods are needed to filter tiny particles from drinking water, 2019

The presence of plastics in aquatic environments is a growing concern across the EU. This study explored the amount of microplastic particles present in raw and treated water at three water-treatment plants in the Czech Republic. While treated water contained fewer particles than raw1 fresh water, the amount found in treated water was not negligible, and largely comprised tiny particles of <10 micrometres (μm) in diameter. Ways to filter microplastics from potable water must be identified and their risk to humans, sources and routes into drinking water determined, say the researchers, Science for Environment Policy reports.


  • Microplastics were present in all water samples from different treatment plants.
  • The concentration of microplastics was higher in raw water than in treated water.
  • Particles of 1–10 μm were the most abundant, accounting for up to 95%.
  • Polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene and polyethylene microplastics prevailed.


The study investigates the content of microplastic particles in freshwater and drinking water. Specifically, three water treatment plants (WTPs) supplied by different kinds of water bodies were selected and their raw and treated water was analysed for microplastics (MPs). Microplastics were found in all water samples and their average abundance ranged from 1473 ± 34 to 3605 ± 497 particles L−1 in raw water and from 338 ± 76 to 628 ± 28 particles L−1 in treated water, depending on the WTP. This study is one of very few that determine microplastics down to the size of 1 μm, while MPs smaller than 10 μm were the most plentiful in both raw and treated water samples, accounting for up to 95%. Further, MPs were divided into three categories according to their shape. Fragments clearly prevailed at two of the WTPs and fibres together with fragments predominated at one case. Despite 12 different materials forming the microplastics being identified, the majority of the MPs (>70%) comprised of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), PP (polypropylene) and PE (polyethylene). This study contributes to fill the knowledge gap in the field of emerging microplastic pollution of drinking water and water sources, which is of concern due to the potential exposure of microplastics to humans.

Nanoplastics damage marine creatures’ natural defences, increasing lethal effects of POPs

Nanoplastic Ingestion Enhances Toxicity of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Monogonont Rotifer Brachionus koreanus via Multixenobiotic Resistance (MXR) Disruption

Nano-sized particles of plastic can be more damaging to marine species than larger sized microplastics, a new study shows.

Lab tests revealed that nanoplastics can damage cell membranes in tiny marine creatures called rotifers (Rotifera), disrupting their natural defences against toxicants.

The researchers found that rotifers that had been exposed to nanoparticles of polystyrene were significantly more susceptible to the lethal effects of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Reference.


Among the various materials found inside microplastic pollution, nanosized microplastics are of particular concern due to difficulties in quantification and detection; moreover, they are predicted to be abundant in aquatic environments with stronger toxicity than microsized microplastics. Here, we demonstrated a stronger accumulation of nanosized microbeads in the marine rotifer Brachionus koreanus compared to microsized ones, which was associated with oxidative stress-induced damages on lipid membranes. In addition, multixenobiotic resistance conferred by P-glycoproteins and multidrug resistance proteins, as a first line of membrane defense, was inhibited by nanoplastic pre-exposure, leading to enhanced toxicity of 2,2′,4,4′-tetrabromodiphenyl ether and triclosan in B. koreanus. Our study provides a molecular mechanistic insight into the toxicity of nanosized microplastics toward aquatic invertebrates and further implies the significance of synergetic effects of microplastics with other environmental persistent organic pollutants.

The early-life exposome: Description and patterns in six European countries

Exploring the exposome: study measures multitude of environmental influences on health

Scientists have measured how children and pregnant women are exposed to over 120 environmental factors influencing our health — from air and noise pollution to green space and access to public transport.

The study gathered and analysed data from six European countries to build a picture of the ‘exposome’ — the array of environmental factors that humans are exposed to from the moment they are conceived.

A better understanding of the exposome could help us understand the role of the environment in the onset of various diseases, including cancer and other chronic disorders such as cardiovascular disease. Reference.


  • The early-life exposome is high dimensional and not easily reducible to fewer components.
  • Correlations between exposures within the same exposure group can be high.
  • Correlations between exposures in different exposure groups are low.
  • The exposome varies strongly by location and by life period.


Characterization of the “exposome”, the set of all environmental factors that one is exposed to from conception onwards, has been advocated to better understand the role of environmental factors on chronic diseases.

Here, we aimed to describe the early-life exposome. Specifically, we focused on the correlations between multiple environmental exposures, their patterns and their variability across European regions and across time (pregnancy and childhood periods). We relied on the Human Early-Life Exposome (HELIX) project, in which 87 environmental exposures during pregnancy and 122 during the childhood period (grouped in 19 exposure groups) were assessed in 1301 pregnant mothers and their children at 6–11 years in 6 European birth cohorts.

Some correlations between exposures in the same exposure group reached high values above 0.8. The median correlation within exposure groups was >0.3 for many exposure groups, reaching 0.69 for water disinfection by products in pregnancy and 0.67 for the meteorological group in childhood. Median correlations between different exposure groups rarely reached 0.3. Some correlations were driven by cohort-level associations (e.g. air pollution and chemicals). Ten principal components explained 45% and 39% of the total variance in the pregnancy and childhood exposome, respectively, while 65 and 90 components were required to explain 95% of the exposome variability. Correlations between maternal (pregnancy) and childhood exposures were high (>0.6) for most exposures modeled at the residential address (e.g. air pollution), but were much lower and even close to zero for some chemical exposures.

In conclusion, the early life exposome was high dimensional, meaning that it cannot easily be measured by or reduced to fewer components. Correlations between exposures from different exposure groups were much lower than within exposure groups, which have important implications for co-exposure confounding in multiple exposure studies. Also, we observed the early life exposome to be variable over time and to vary by cohort, so measurements at one time point or one place will not capture its complexities.

The Lancet Commission on pollution and health

How to control and mitigate the effects of pollution on public health

It is estimated that pollution is responsible for 16% of all deaths worldwide. In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than 25% of deaths. It is important to note that pollution disproportionately kills the poor and the vulnerable.

Pollution is the world’s largest environmental cause of disease and premature death.

The Lancet Commission on pollution and health brought together leaders, researchers and practitioners from the fields of pollution management, environmental health and sustainable development to elucidate the full health and economic costs of air, water, chemical and soil pollution worldwide.

By analysing existing and emerging data, the Commission reveals that pollution makes a significant and underreported contribution to the global burden of disease, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

The Commission also provides six recommendations to policymakers and other stakeholders looking for efficient, cost-effective and actionable approaches to pollution mitigation and prevention.

  1. Make pollution prevention a high priority nationally and internationally and integrate it into country and city planning processes.
  2. Mobilise, increase and focus the funding and international technical support dedicated to pollution control.
  3. Establish systems to monitor pollution and its effects on health.
  4. uild multi-sectoral partnerships for pollution control.
  5. Integrate pollution mitigation into planning processes for NCDs.
  6. Research pollution and pollution control.

NO² at the home address associated with concern over health effects of air pollution

Concern over health effects of air pollution linked to personal and environmental factors in seven European cities

Subjective perception of air pollution can have important implications in terms of health-protective behaviours and citizen and stakeholder engagement in cleaner-air policies.

A recent study, conducted under the EUfunded PASTA project, has analysed the link between level of concern over health effects of air pollution and personal and environmental factors in seven European cities. Overall, 58% of participants were worried over health effects of air pollution, with large differences between cities. On a city scale, average levels of concern over health effects of air pollution had a good correlation with average Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels and a lower correlation with average PM2.5 levels. Individual level of concern was found to be linked to gender, having children in the household, levels of physical activity, and NO2 levels at the home address. These findings can be used to inform future policymaking.

2018 Study Abstract

Subjective perception of air pollution is important and can have impacts on health in its own rights, can lead to protective behaviour, or it can be leveraged to engage citizens and stakeholders in support of cleaner air policies. The aim of the current analysis was to examine associations between level of concern over health effects of air pollution and personal and environmental factors. In seven European cities, 7622 adult participants were recruited to complete an online questionnaire on travel and physical activity behaviour, perceptions and attitudes on active mobility and the environment, and sociodemographics. Air pollution at the home address was determined using Europe-wide PM2.5 and NO2 land use regression models. Mixed effects logistic regression was used to model concern over air pollution (worried versus not worried; city as random effect). Fifty-eight percent of participants were worried over health effects of air pollution with large differences across cities (Antwerp 78%, Barcelona 81%, London 64%, Orebro 11%, Rome 72%, Vienna 43%, Zurich 33%). Linking mean modelled air pollution to mean level of concern per city gave a good correlation for NO2 (r2 = 0.75), and a lower correlation for PM2.5 (r2 = 0.49). In the regression model, sex, having children in the household, levels of physical activity, and NO2 at the home address were significantly linked to individual concern over health effects of air pollution. We found that NO2 but not PM2.5 at the home address was associated with concern over health effects of air pollution.

Identifying valid surrogates for amphibians and reptiles in pesticide toxicity assessment

Validity of fish, birds and mammals as surrogates for amphibians and reptiles in pesticide toxicity assessment

Environmental pollution is putting amphibians and reptiles at risk, yet these animals are not included in regulations regarding the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of pesticides.

The extent to which other species already used in pesticide toxicity assessment (including fish, birds and mammals) can serve as effective surrogates is currently under debate. This study conducts a systematic review of the available literature. The results reveal a positive correlation between toxicity recorded on fish and aquatic amphibians, but indicate that birds and mammals are generally not good surrogates for reptiles and terrestrial amphibians. Moreover, some chemical-dependent trends were detected, with a number of insecticides found to be more toxic to amphibians or reptiles than to potential surrogates.

These findings highlight an urgent need for further research to reduce uncertainties and contribute to future policymaking regarding the protection of amphibians and reptiles from potentially harmful pesticides.

2018 Study Abstract

Amphibians and reptiles are the two most endangered groups of vertebrates. Environmental pollution by pesticides is recognised as one of the major factors threatening populations of these groups. However, the effects of pesticides on amphibians and reptiles have been studied for few substances, which is partly related to the fact that these animals are not included in the mandatory toxicity testing conducted as part of environmental risk assessments of pesticides. Whether risks of pesticides to amphibians and reptiles are addressed by surrogate taxa used in risk assessment is currently under debate. In order to develop a scientifically sound and robust risk assessment scheme, information needs to be gathered to examine whether fish, birds and mammals are valid surrogates for amphibians and reptiles.

We updated a systematic review of scientific literature that was recently published compiling toxicity data on amphibians and reptiles. The outcome of this review was analysed with the purposes to

  1. compare endpoints from amphibians and reptiles with the available information from fish, birds and mammals,
  2. and develop species sensitivity distributions (SSDs) for those substances tested in at least six amphibian species (no substances were found tested in at least six reptile species) to identify a candidate amphibian model species to be used as surrogate in risk assessment.

A positive correlation was found between toxicity recorded on fish and amphibians, the former revealing, in general, to be more sensitive than the latter to waterborne pollutants. In the terrestrial environment, although birds and mammals were more sensitive than amphibians and reptiles to at least 60% of tested substances, just a few weak significant correlations were observed. As a general rule, homoeothermic vertebrates are not good surrogates for reptiles and terrestrial amphibians in pesticide risk assessment. However, some chemical-dependent trends were detected, with pyrethroids and organochlorine insecticides being more toxic to amphibians or reptiles than to birds or mammals. These trends could ultimately help in decisions about protection provided by surrogate taxa for specific groups of substances, and also to determine when risk assessment of pesticides needs to pay special consideration to amphibians and reptiles.

The outcome of this review reflects that there is still much information needed to reduce uncertainties and extract relevant conclusions on the overall protection of amphibians and reptiles by surrogate vertebrates.

How can risks from nanotechnology be managed ?

The Essential Elements of a Risk Governance Framework for Current and Future Nanotechnologies

Currently laws and regulations governing nanotechnology are fragmented and do not take account of the unique properties of nanomaterials, the effect of which on humans and the environment are not yet fully understood, argue researchers in a new study.

In the study, a network of European researchers propose a new universal regulatory framework that deals specifically with nanomaterials. The framework should help policymakers, organisations and researchers evaluate the risks of any existing materials and new nanomaterials entering the market. It should also help SMEs and large companies use safer products and processes, limit the potential adverse effects of nanomaterials on workers and consumers, reduce the cost of insurance and reduce the risk of governments having to pay out money in the future due to unforeseen accidents or diseases.

2018 Study Abstract

Societies worldwide are investing considerable resources into the safe development and use of nanomaterials. Although each of these protective efforts is crucial for governing the risks of nanomaterials, they are insufficient in isolation. What is missing is a more integrative governance approach that goes beyond legislation. Development of this approach must be evidence based and involve key stakeholders to ensure acceptance by end users. The challenge is to develop a framework that coordinates the variety of actors involved in nanotechnology and civil society to facilitate consideration of the complex issues that occur in this rapidly evolving research and development area. Here, we propose three sets of essential elements required to generate an effective risk governance framework for nanomaterials.

  1. Advanced tools to facilitate risk-based decision making, including an assessment of the needs of users regarding risk assessment, mitigation, and transfer.
  2. An integrated model of predicted human behavior and decision making concerning nanomaterial risks.
  3. Legal and other (nano-specific and general) regulatory requirements to ensure compliance and to stimulate proactive approaches to safety.

The implementation of such an approach should facilitate and motivate good practice for the various stakeholders to allow the safe and sustainable future development of nanotechnology.

Disinfection by-products in drinking water : an emerging health concern

Evaluating gas chromatography with a halogen-specific detector for the determination of disinfection by-products in drinking water

DBPs come in many classes and are chemically diverse, making them challenging to monitor. Swedish researchers have evaluated a new method for the simultaneous determination of a broader range of DBPs than typically possible using other available techniques. The method uses gas chromatography (a laboratory technique that separates and analyses vaporisable compounds in a mixture), together with a halogen-specific detector (XSD). Having been tested in real water samples from two municipal waterworks in Sweden, the method has been optimised for the simultaneous determination of a wide range of neutral DBPs.

2018 Study Abstract

The occurrence of disinfection by-products (DBPs) in drinking water has become an issue of concern during the past decades. The DBPs pose health risks and are suspected to cause various cancer forms, be genotoxic, and have negative developmental effects. The vast chemical diversity of DBPs makes comprehensive monitoring challenging. Only few of the DBPs are regulated and included in analytical protocols. In this study, a method for simultaneous measurement of 20 DBPs from five different structural classes (both regulated and non-regulated) was investigated and further developed for 11 DBPs using solid-phase extraction and gas chromatography coupled with a halogen-specific detector (XSD). The XSD was highly selective towards halogenated DBPs, providing chromatograms with little noise. The method allowed detection down to 0.05 μg L−1 and showed promising results for the simultaneous determination of a range of neutral DBP classes. Compounds from two classes of emerging DBPs, more cytotoxic than the “traditional” regulated DBPs, were successfully determined using this method. However, haloacetic acids (HAAs) should be analyzed separately as some HAA methyl esters may degrade giving false positives of trihalomethanes (THMs). The method was tested on real water samples from two municipal waterworks where the target DBP concentrations were found below the regulatory limits of Sweden.

What are the health costs of environmental pollution ?

Science for Environment Policy, December 2018, Issue 21

From sleepless nights caused by traffic noise to death, quantifying the toll of environmental pollution on human health has been the subject of much research. Hospital visits and incidences of illness can be counted and linked to certain types of pollution through statistical analysis; and although life and health are of intrinsic value, ascertaining a monetary equivalent that reflects public preference for the allocation of scarce resources offers a practical metric for use in policymaking so that we can better take account of them. Such a metric needs to account for the full costs of health impacts, including burdens on healthcare services, reduced economic productivity and, most importantly, lost utility associated with premature death, pain and suffering. Calculating these costs has been the subject of a number of studies over the last 30 years, with the resulting figures informing both media headlines and cost-benefit analysis in the field of environmental policymaking.

This Future Brief outlines some of the methodologies that have been used to account for health costs, both in Europe and other parts of the world. The strengths and weaknesses of each methodology are considered, and their potential applications explored. Finally, the future directions of research in this field are investigated.

Health costs related to three key categories of pollution — air pollution, noise pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals — are touched upon with an introduction given to each. However, environmental pollution is not limited to these categories (it can also be linked to water pollution, indoor air pollution, biological contamination, ionising or UV radiation and more) but it is beyond the scope of this brief to cover each in detail.


Is it possible to remove most of pharmaceuticals from waste water ?

Effects of recirculation in a three-tank pilot-scale system for pharmaceutical removal with powdered activated carbon

The release of pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) in waste water from treatment plants (WWTPs) is currently not regulated anywhere in the world, with the exception of a few plants in Switzerland. Yet thousands of PhACs or their by-products — excreted by humans — can be found in waste water and some of these may harm biodiversity when released into waterways. For example diclofenac and oxazepam may have negative effects on aquatic species.

This study presents a pilot design that seeks to deliver an alternative to less effective technologies, in particular by optimising the use of activated carbon, Science for Environment Policy reports.


The removal of pharmaceutically active compounds by powdered activated carbon (PAC) in municipal wastewater is a promising solution to the problem of polluted recipient waters. Today, an efficient design strategy is however lacking with regard to high-level overall, and specific, substance removal in the large scale. The performance of PAC-based removal of pharmaceuticals was studied in pilot-scale with respect to the critical parameters; contact time and PAC dose using one PAC product selected by screening in bench-scale. The goal was a minimum of 95% removal of the pharmaceuticals present in the evaluated municipal wastewater. A set of 21 pharmaceuticals was selected from an initial 100 due to their high occurrence in the effluent water of two selected wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in Sweden, whereof candidates discussed for future EU regulation directives were included. By using recirculation of PAC over a treatment system using three sequential contact tanks, a combination of the benefits of powdered and granular carbon performance was achieved. The treatment system was designed so that recirculation could be introduced to any of the three tanks to investigate the effect of recirculation on the adsorption performance. This was compared to use of the setup, but without recirculation. A higher degree of pharmaceutical removal was achieved in all recirculation setups, both overall and with respect to specific substances, as compared to without recirculation. Recirculation was tested with nominal contact times of 30, 60 and 120 min and the goal of 95% removal could be achieved already at the shortest contact times at a PAC dose of 10-15 mg/L. In particular, the overall removal could be increased even to 97% and 99%, at 60 and 120 min, respectively, when the recirculation point was the first tank. Recirculation of PAC to either the first or the second contact tank proved to be comparable, while a slightly lower performance was observed with recirculation to the third tank. With regards to individual substances, clarithromycin and diclofenac were ubiquitously removed according to the set goal and in contrast, a few substances (fluconazole, irbesartan, memantine and venlafaxine) required specific settings to reach an acceptable removal.