Emerging Contaminants in Municipal Water Treatment: Challenges & Solutions

emerging contaminants in municipal water treatment

Ever poured yourself a glass of water and wondered, “What’s really in there?” If you think it’s just H2O, I hate to burst your bubble. We are dealing with more than what’s visible to your naked eye, emerging contaminants in municipal water treatment. It may have once been almost unbelievable, but this is a reality we are facing. It is as real as that glass of water you hold.

Picturing tiny pharmaceutical residues, mingling with PFAS compounds, fire retardants or pesticides might seem surreal…or even downright scary! Don’t panic yet – that’s why I am here.


Together, we will take a detailed look into the nitty-gritty of our drinking water systems, breaking down all that tricky lingo and numbers. And you know what? When we’re done, you will have a better understanding of the emerging contaminants we face in our water supply and municipal water treatment solutions to address them.

Understanding Emerging Contaminants in Municipal Water Treatment

Emerging contaminants, including PFAS, pharmaceuticals and hygienic items, present a major hazard to municipal water treatment. These substances can compromise the quality of our drinking water and lead to potential health impacts.

A startling fact is that 70 percent of Americans now take prescription drugs compared to just 48 percent five years ago. This significant increase has led to more pharmaceutical residues entering our water systems through household septic systems or municipal wastewater treatment plants.

In the USA, The EPA is responsible for keeping a watchful eye on these pollutants while upholding rules to ensure their control. But with so many different compounds being introduced into the environment every day, it’s like playing whack-a-mole at an amusement park.

The Role of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In response to this growing concern, the EPA has taken action by focusing on certain pharmaceuticals, personal care products and PFAS (forever compounds) in our water supplies. The agency uses sophisticated testing methods capable of detecting even minuscule quantities of these substances.

However, regulation alone is not enough – we need robust technology that can effectively reduce and remove these contaminants from our drinking water supply too. It is not about trying harder; it’s about working smarter when dealing with emerging contaminants.

Common Types of Emerging Contaminants in Drinking Water

Imagine sipping your morning coffee, but instead of water, it’s a cocktail of pharmaceuticals and nicotine breakdown products. Not so appetizing, right? However, these substances are common emerging contaminants found in our drinking water.

The most ubiquitous contaminant is probably the stuff we use to put out fires – fire retardants. It might be surprising to learn that the very thing protecting us from one danger poses another threat when ingested through our drinking water.

Pesticides and Herbicides as Emerging Contaminants

From farm fields to home gardens, pesticides and herbicides work hard keeping pesky bugs away. However, they do not stay where we spray them. These chemicals often end up seeping into groundwater or getting washed away by rain into rivers and lakes becoming unwanted contaminants in our water supply.

You may ask why this is alarming? Personal care products like soaps and detergents enter into our water every time we use them, thus becoming an unwanted presence.

Insect repellent DEET is yet another uninvited visitor in many municipal water supplies across America. Did you know? A 2008 survey revealed its presence in nearly 75% of tested U.S surface water sources.

This article aims to shed light on these emerging pollutants. Being aware of this issue is half the battle towards a cleaner and healthier water supply for your communities and cities.

Sources and Pathways of Emerging Contaminants

Water quality is under threat from a variety of sources. One major pathway for emerging contaminants entering our water systems is through industrial discharges.

Industrial facilities often produce wastewater filled with harmful substances, which can make their way into rivers and lakes if not properly treated. This includes wastewater discharges, where various chemicals are expelled during manufacturing processes.

Industrial Discharges and Consumer Products

The items we use daily also play a significant role in contaminating water supplies. Personal care products, cleaning solutions, even medications – when discarded or washed away – enter the domestic sewage system contributing to wastewater discharges as these contaminants are not typically treated.

In many areas though, storm water runoff carries these pollutants directly into local bodies of water without any treatment at all.

This issue is not limited to urban environments either. Animal agriculture presents another contamination source due to the extensive use of veterinary pharmaceuticals that find their way into groundwater after heavy rains wash them off fields used for grazing or crop production.

A recent study suggests as much as 80% of antibiotics given to livestock are not absorbed by animals but excreted intact or as metabolites — making manure an unexpected culprit in antibiotic resistance.

Impacts of Emerging Contaminants on Water Treatment Processes

This section takes a look at how emerging contaminants impact various water treatment processes such as oxidation, filtration, and reverse osmosis.

Limitations of Conventional Water Treatment Processes

Emerging contaminants pose a significant challenge to our traditional water treatment processes. Most existing municipal water treatment systems are inadequate for eliminating these pollutants.

The conventional treatment processes we have trusted for years are not enough anymore. But why is that?

You see, oxidation processes like chlorine or ozone can tackle many harmful substances in water. They are great at eliminating things like bacteria and viruses. However, they falter when faced with emerging contaminants.

This is because emerging pollutants often have complex structures or properties that resist breakdown through typical oxidative methods. Recent research shows us just how much more work needs to be done in this area.

In essence, these contaminants require enhanced treatment.

Treatment Technologies for Removing Emerging Contaminants

Emerging contaminants pose a significant challenge to municipal water treatment. We possess some innovative solutions for dealing with this problem.

Activated Carbon Adsorption

The use of activated carbon is a proven method for removing organic pollutants from water. It works like a sponge, soaking up these unwanted compounds and holding onto them tightly. It can be used a part of the solution approach.

Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs)

AOPs involve using strong oxidizing agents to break down harmful substances in the water into less toxic or non-toxic ones. Innovative liquid AOP treatment solutions such as Genclean-Muni can also be used in an integrated approach to deal with these contaminants efficiently.

Membrane Filtration

This technique uses semi-permeable membranes to separate impurities based on their size and charge. The downside? Not all emerging contaminants are effectively removed by membrane filtration alone.

Therefore, reducing and removing trace contaminants required an integrated treatment approach which is something that companies like Genesis Water Technologies can assist your organization with.

Assessing the Effectiveness of Water Treatment for Emerging Contaminants

To tackle emerging contaminants, we need to evaluate our water treatment methods. How can we gauge the efficacy of our water treatment techniques? One way is by looking at contaminant testing notes. These help us measure the presence and levels of specific substances in treated water.

The results from PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl Substances) tests are a great example. They’re notorious as they resist traditional treatment methods. Therefore, monitoring PFAS removal rates gives valuable insight into how well our processes work against recalcitrant pollutants.

Digging deeper into removal rates, let’s think about basketball – if you consistently score 8 out of 10 shots during practice but only manage 3 out of 10 during an actual game…something is not quite right. Similarly with contaminant removal: consistent high scores indicate successful treatment procedures.

We also consider environmental impact while assessing effectiveness – it would not be much use removing one problem just to create another now would it?

Potential Health Risks Associated with Emerging Contaminants

It’s simple to overlook the potential risks that lurk beneath the surface when discussing water. However, what you cannot see might hurt you – especially when it comes to emerging contaminants in municipal water treatment.

You may not realize that common products like medications and insect repellents contain substances which, when discarded improperly or washed off the bodies of people in your community, end up in our drinking water. These are known as emerging contaminants.

The Unseen Threats of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products

The increase in prescription drug use over the past five years has been significant – from 48% to a staggering 70% among Americans (EPA report). Consequently, pharmaceutical residues entering the environment through our domestic wastewater treatment systems have also risen dramatically.

Pharmaceuticals are not alone on this list though; personal care products like soaps and detergents make their way into our waters every time we bathe or wash dishes. A lot of these substances resist conventional wastewater treatment processes resulting in contaminated potable supplies – an unseen but very real threat.

Dangers Lurking Below The Surface: Pesticides And Herbicides

Pesticides and herbicides used for agricultural production also run-off into nearby bodies of water during rainfall events (see more details at WHO’s comprehensive report on this issue).

Agricultural runoff doesn’t just affect rural areas either – even urban centers can be affected by this type of contamination. That’s why it’s important to understand the potential health risks these contaminants pose and how we can protect ourselves.

FAQs in Relation to Emerging Contaminants in Municipal Water Treatment

What are the emerging contaminants in treated wastewater?

Treated wastewater often contains pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, and industrial chemicals that conventional treatment processes cannot typically remove effectively.

What are the emerging contaminants in water sources?

In water sources, you will find common emerging contaminants like pharmaceutical residues, PFAS, insect repellents, fire retardants as well as run-off substances such as pesticides and herbicides.

What are the four major types of contaminants that can be found in drinking water?

The four major categories include biological organisms or pathogens; disinfection byproducts; organic compounds like pesticides; plus pharmaceutical residues and PFAS. Each type poses unique health risks if consumed over time at certain levels.

Want to learn more about how to handle emerging contaminants in your water utility organization? Contact the water & wastewater treatment experts at Genesis Water Technologies, Inc. at 1-877-267-3699 or reach out to us via email at customersupport@genesiswatertech.com to discuss your specific issues. We look forward to collaborating with you.