Emerging Contaminants in Water

In order to improve energy efficiency and reduce the consumption of natural resources, there has been a great deal of research on how to improve the efficiency of manufacturing, storing, and exploiting energy and natural resources. While transitioning to renewable, clean energy sources is the desired long-term goal, the current increase in demand for energy and the amp-up in the burning of fossil fuels has caused countless environmental challenges that can be directly linked to the production and consumption of energy, such as climate change, air pollution, water pollution, etc.


Image Credit/Shutterstock/IVASHStudio

Unfortunately, the energy crisis has upset the transition to a greener economy and weakened attempts to limit global warming, posing an “existential threat” to climate goals.1 Rising temperatures and unsustainable farming techniques have contributed to the growing threat of water and food insecurity, which has emerged as one of the largest environmental concerns of our day, alongside air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and other factors.

Developing technologies to address the presence of pollutants in the environment and to test for the presence of other biological contaminants is a key part of addressing many of today's environmental concerns.

Emerging Contaminants (ECs)

Water quality experts use the phrase “emerging contaminants” to refer to pollutants that can be obtained from environmental monitoring samples. Said contaminants may influence the environment or human health.2 Agriculture, urban runoff, common home items (such as soap and disinfectants), and medications that are dumped into sewage treatment plants and then released into surface waters are some of the sources of these pollutants. After being released as waste, ECs have the potential to enter the public water supply system, more recently being linked to endocrine disruption and other harmful mechanisms.

Chemicals such as medicines, personal care items, cyanotoxins, nanoparticles, and flame retardants are a few examples of the many chemical categories for contaminants of emerging concern (ECs).


One of the most notable examples of ECs is pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals are a particularly complex class of ECs due to their chemical complexity. They may be present in the form of the original pharmaceutical compound or as metabolites excreted from humans. Another challenge was associated with the difficulty of measuring the presence of pharmaceutical compounds in waste – that is, until the development of tests with sufficient sensitivities to detect very low concentrations of ECs.3


Cyanotoxins are toxins produced by cyanobacteria, sometimes known as blue-green algae. The release of certain compounds into surface water, such as detergent usage and fertilizer runoff, can lead to eutrophication or a rise in nutrient levels in surface waters. This has been linked to an increase in cyanobacterial bloom growth. These blooms threaten the health of humans and the associated wildlife by releasing pollutants that can lower water quality. Cyanotoxins can have both short-term and long-term harmful effects, and they frequently have negative effects on the environment.4


Emerging pollutants can have a highly detrimental effect on water quality, and it is possible that, without suitable water treatment, some pollutants can increase in concentration over time. The challenge is to find new technologies that can be installed in wastewater treatment plants to help remove toxins from the water or convert them to chemical forms where they are no longer harmful.

Advanced Treatment Plant Technology

Several cutting-edge treatment plant technologies, including ozonation, photocatalysis, sonolysis, and Fenton-based oxidation, have successfully treated developing toxins in lab tests. While effective, some of these approaches can be very costly at an industrial scale and are so not necessarily viable.

However, recent research on light-based systems to decompose waste products indicates tremendous promise for water treatment. Light-based methods hold a great deal of promise when it comes to eliminating ECs at a low cost, especially with the falling prices of UV-LED systems.

Nano-Adsorbent Remediation Using Metal-Organic Frameworks

Researchers have proposed using metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and MOF-based nano-adsorbents (MOF-NAs) in wastewater treatment to remove certain ECs, such as medicines and personal care items.5

The effectiveness of MOF-based nanoadsorbent remediation significantly depends on water-quality parameters like pH. Additional organic compounds and heavy metals can be effectively removed from wastewater using MOF-NA remediation.

Membrane Bioreactors

Membrane bioreactors (MBRs), which function through mechanisms of biodegradation and sorption, are another potential EC treatment approach. Due to the relatively small size of ECs, membrane bioreactors (MBRs) must rely on additional mechanisms to ensure the removal of ECs. Membrane bioreactors have demonstrated the ability to separate out specific solutes and compounds from wastewater using microfiltration techniques.8 Sorption is one method MBRs employ to extract ECs from wastewater.

The Future of ECs

Research has been done on a wide range of contaminants over the past ten years, and huge efforts have been made to improve the efficiency of remediation procedures or create new methods for the detection, measurement, and efficacy of the samples to tackle the aforementioned ecological problems. The growing popularity of environmental engineering and biotechnology presents a chance for the creation of more creative approaches to water treatment remediation.

By creating new concepts and techniques for comprehensive and solutions-oriented monitoring, impact assessment and diagnosis, modeling, and abatement of these complex mixtures, there is now a strong emphasis on developing solutions for reducing risks associated with ECs.

Biomonitoring and Biosensors

The use of biomonitoring technologies, including bioassays, biomarkers, and microbial community analysis, has the potential to significantly boost the reliability of risk assessments for both established and newly discovered chemical pollutants. Tools for environmental monitoring and screening include sensors that have been developed to measure many analytes simultaneously.

Innovative Methods for Bioremediating Emerging Contaminants

Some of these pollutants can be easily eliminated or degraded thanks to biotechnological treatments. Studies have shown that to achieve pollutant mineralization, transformation, or immobilization, treatment solutions must involve the action of microorganisms, plants, and animals under particular conditions that address both abiotic and biotic variables. For instance, the removal of EDCs (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals) from influent can be accomplished with a 45-99% removal efficiency by combining biological processes with adsorption on solids in wastewater treatment.6

Pittcon Talk – Sensing and Analytical Technologies for Emerging Environmental Contaminants


This session’s objective is to provide a forum for scientific and technical discussions among researchers about new developments in analytical and sensing techniques for determining the concentration, fate, and distribution of developing contaminants as well as their potential for exposure (ECs).

Organizer – Silvana Andreescu – Clarkson University      

Silvana Andreescu holds the Egon Matijevi Endowed Chair and is an associate professor in Clarkson University’s Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Science.

The Energy Crisis

How much energy will the world consume in the 21st century?

As a result of the thorough experimentation that was carried out, there are now some extremely significant statistics if the average per capita energy demand is to increase to current US levels by the year 2100. In 2016 alone, 18 trillion watts was roughly the energy required to maintain human civilization.7 It is almost guaranteed that humanity will continue to consume more energy due to the simultaneous increases in income, population, and personal energy demand.

Energy – Both the Cause and Solution of the Climate Crisis

Although burning fossil fuels still produces the majority of electricity, cleaner energy alternatives are gaining popularity. Currently, renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which are replenished by nature and create little to no greenhouse gases or other air pollutants, provide around 29% of the world’s electricity.11 The cost of renewable energy technologies also continues to decrease, making them the most cost-effective source of energy today.8

Technology for Energy Storage and a Low-Carbon Economy

Society is moving toward an energy system where “low-carbon” renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are important. It will be difficult to guarantee a steady supply because wind and solar energy have fluctuating energy output, and because of this, efficient electrical energy storage will be important in shifting to a low-carbon energy system.9 Energy storage systems can transform electricity when it is produced in large quantities into a form that can be stored, then transform it back into electricity (or use it directly) when it is most needed.

Batteries – A Key Player in a Low-Carbon Economy

Due to the unpredictable nature of renewable energy sources, energy storage will be essential for reducing climate change. Therefore, the next major task is to develop cost-effective and sustainable energy storage options. The rapid growth of e-mobility and batteries’ ability to balance supply and demand within the energy system has propelled batteries to the forefront of the conversation as EU policymakers increase their ambition to lower greenhouse gas emissions.10

Pittcon Talk – Advanced Analytical Techniques for the Study of Energy Storage Materials


Energy storage technologies will need to be widely used to transition to a low-carbon economy. Therefore, higher energy density and longer cycle life battery materials will be required to enable greater integration of sporadic renewable sources (like wind and solar PV), which would hasten the adoption of electric transportation. This talk will discuss new developments in in-situ and operando analytical methods used to investigate electrochemical processes under operationally pertinent circumstances, providing a fundamental understanding of phenomena that affect how these materials behave.

Organizer – Nicola Menegazzo – Shell Global Solutions Int BV     

Menegazzo is an industrial scientist and project leader in the areas of chemical sensors, energy storage, material characterization and surface chemistry.

Technical Specialties:
» Spectroscopy: Infrared (FT-IR and NIR), Raman, UV-Vis, and surface plasmon resonance (SPR).
» Electrochemistry: Cyclic voltammetry (CV), amperometry, scanning electrochemical microscopy (SECM).
» Surface Analysis: Atomic force (AFM), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and stylus profilometry.

Analytical Chemistry’s Role in Renewable Energy Sources

Research, development, technological advancements, and sophisticated analytical methods all contribute to the push to provide more sustainable energy in these trying times.

The oil and gas sector faces several difficulties, such as shifting oil supply and demand on a worldwide scale and environmental concerns. However, improvements in analytical chemistry methods are assisting the sector in overcoming these difficulties. They can be employed to enhance conventional procedures and goods as well as support the creation of alternative fuels.

Developments in cleaner, more sustainable energy production and products will be driven by discoveries made in the laboratories of petroleum and energy companies.11 Such companies will only be able to achieve this by utilizing analytical chemistry, which will enable an investigation into the composition and functionality of materials.

Pittcon will be host to thought leaders in this field of energy and environmental analytical sciences from companies such as Shell, Thermo Fisher Scientific, ABB Measurement and Analytics, and Hidden Analytics.


One of the key tracks at Pittcon is Energy and Environmental because it is such a vital and pressing issue. Analytical instrumentation and methods that are used for process control or addressing environmental monitoring problems for contaminant detection and monitoring are some of the key issues to be discussed.

Pittcon is a vibrant, international conference and exhibition on laboratory science that serves as a site for showcasing the most recent developments in scientific instrumentation and analytical research as well as a location for continuing education and career-enhancing opportunities. Anyone who creates, purchases, or sells laboratory equipment, conducts physical or chemical tests, creates analytical methods, or oversees these scientists are welcome to attend Pittcon.

Find out more about Pittcon, the technical program, or the conference sessions.


  1. Reuters.com. Energy crisis seen posing ‘existential threat’ to climate goals. (2022). https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/reuters-impact-energy-crisis-seen-posing-existential-threat-climate-goals-2022-10-03/
  2. U.S. Geological Survey. Emerging Contaminants. (2022). https://www.usgs.gov/mission-areas/water-resources/science/emerging-contaminants
  3. EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022). https://www.epa.gov/wqc/contaminants-emerging-concern-including-pharmaceuticals-and-personal-care-products
  4. Khan, S. et al. (2022) “Emerging contaminants of high concern for the environment: Current trends and future research,” Environmental Research. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2021.112609.
  5. Gavrilescu, M. et al. (2015) “Emerging pollutants in the environment: Present and future challenges in biomonitoring, ecological risks and bioremediation,” New Biotechnology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbt.2014.01.001.
  6. IEA. Global electricity demand is growing faster than renewables, driving strong increase in generation from fossil fuels. (2021) https://www.iea.org/news/global-electricity-demand-is-growing-faster-than-renewables-driving-strong-increase-in-generation-from-fossil-fuels
  7. Hannah Ritchie, Max Roser and Pablo Rosado (2022) - "Energy". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. https://ourworldindata.org/energy
  8. National Grid Group. How will our electricity supply change in the future? (2022). https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/energy-explained/how-will-our-electricity-supply-change-future
  9. United Nations. Generating power. https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/climate-solutions/cities-pollution
  10. European Commission. In Focus: Batteries – a key enabler of a low-carbon economy (2021) https://commission.europa.eu/news/focus-batteries-key-enabler-low-carbon-economy-2021-03-15_en
  11. Imperial College London. Energy Storage Technologies. www.imperial.ac.uk/grantham/research/energy-and-low-carbon-futures/energy-storage/



Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Pittcon. (2023, September 09). Emerging Contaminants in Water. AZoM. Retrieved on July 25, 2024 from https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=22290.

  • MLA

    Pittcon. "Emerging Contaminants in Water". AZoM. 25 July 2024. <https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=22290>.

  • Chicago

    Pittcon. "Emerging Contaminants in Water". AZoM. https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=22290. (accessed July 25, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Pittcon. 2023. Emerging Contaminants in Water. AZoM, viewed 25 July 2024, https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=22290.

Ask A Question

Do you have a question you'd like to ask regarding this article?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.