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Micropollutants & Emerging Contaminants

Micropollutants are biological or chemical contaminants that make their way into ground and surface waters in trace quantities (at or below the microgram per liter level) as a result of human activities. These contaminants include a myriad of natural and synthetic organic compounds, many of which are labeled as “emerging” largely due to traditionally being unmonitored or unregulated in environmental samples but have become of public health concern in recent years. The manufacturing, use, and subsequent disposal of chemical substances including pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), industrial chemicals (including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)), cleaning detergents, steroid hormones, and pesticides, has led to their detection in treated water and in wastewater effluents. Similarly, our heavy reliance on the use of plastic products have led to the contamination of water bodies with microplastics. Source waters can also be contaminated with micropollutants that are biological in nature, such as viruses and bacteria. In certain instances, chemicals are added to source water to render the final drinking water product safe for consumption, but creating in the process undesired chemicals, namely disinfection by-products (DBPs). Due to the potential of these contaminants (and many more) to cause health, economic, and environmental impacts, they have become an issue of national and global concern. WRI is involved in conducting and funding research into the source, transport, and fate of micropollutants with the main focus on NYS water systems. 

Research Goals

  • Identify the prevalence and the environmental formation conditions of micropollutants in source and drinking waters.
  • Analyze the connections between access to safe drinking water and community demographics (e.g., race, income, and housing).
  • Determine the degree of success of conventional water and wastewater treatment plants in the removal of micropollutants.

Outreach Goals

  • Create research summaries to effectively communicate the findings of WRI to local communities, municipalities, and state and local government agencies. This can be in the form of resource lists (e.g., see here), fact sheets (e.g., see here), and short communications (e.g., see here).
  • Synthesize the research findings to create ArcGIS StoryMaps (see examples here, and here) that can be shared with the staff of state and federal agencies. StoryMaps can be used to: 1) create an effective means of outreach on topics of great concern (e.g., leadPFAS, and 1,4-dioxane in water) to stakeholders; and 2) shed the light on crucial water quality issues that face underprivileged and underserved communities; and 3) justify the potential upgrade of aging water and wastewater infrastructure across the state.

Diversity Equity Inclusion/Environmental Justice (DEI/EJ)

  • Incorporate a DEI/EJ lens into staff and intern projects relating to contaminants in and safe access to drinking water.
  • Include the findings on DEI/EJ into relevant outreach materials and disseminate the results to the stakeholders.

Select Projects & Publications

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Wastewater Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2: a Resource List

Oct 1, 2020

This document includes numerous resources on SARS-CoV-2 in water and wastewater, with a focus on wastewater surveillance. It includes links to fact sheets, websites, testing methodology, Slack channel, webinars, and funding opportunities related to this topic.
Rassil Sayess, WRI.

Staying Ahead of the Curve: Wastewater Surveillance for Monitoring COVID-19 Outbreaks in New York State

Sep 25, 2020

One method for community level monitoring of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is wastewater surveillance – a powerful and relatively inexpensive informational tool that can provide data on how the virus is circulating within a community. This short communication explores the possibilities and limitations of wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2.