There appears to be an increasing cocktail of industrial chemicals, and even plastics, in drinking water. In a recent research project, the JPI Water PROMOTE consortium identified, for the first time, several industrial chemicals in European drinking water that were never spotted before. A prominent example is trihalomethylsulfonic acids, which are used in a variety of industry processes. The consortium is concerned that there could be several other contaminants currently in the tap water we are drinking now, going unnoticed, because we lack the analytical methods. With the increasing number of chemicals being introduced on the market, the number of chemicals in our drinking water may increase.
How did all these contaminants get there, and what can we do to stop them?
Let us first consider how chemicals can become a drinking water contaminant. There are three things to consider. First, the chemical must be persistent in the environment. If the chemical is rapidly biodegradable, or unstable in water or sunlight, it generally will not reach your tap water. Second, the chemical must be mobile in the environment. This means it must be dissolved in water to such an extent that it will flow through groundwater and water treatment facilities, without being substantially trapped by soil or treatment filters. Finally, the chemical must be used in a way that a large quantity of it is emitted into the environment. If a chemical has all the three factors in play, being persistency, mobility and emissions, there is a risk that your water can be contaminated.
The JPI Water PROMOTE consortium consists of an international team of researchers from Germany, Spain, France, the Netherlands and Norway. The researched diverse aspects about how to identify and analyze which organic chemicals produced today have these properties of persistence, mobility and emissions. They refer to these compounds as PMOCs, short for "persistent and mobile organic compounds".
Many of these PMOCs pose an analytical challenge. For some, no methods exist to quantify them in the environment. Therefore the key goals of the PROMOTE project were to establish analytical techniques for PMOCs, identify potential PMOCs in the environment to analyze for, and attempt to analyze them in the environment.
The main task of the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) was to lead the assessment of all REACH registered organic compounds for their persistency, mobility and emissions, based on chemical property and use data. This assessment was also done forr predicted hydrolysis products, in order to account for benign substances that may degrade into water pollutants.
From this analysis, 936 REACH registered organic compounds were considered to be pose a potential risk to contaminate drinking water sources. In addition 174 REACH registered organic compounds were considered benign, but with the possibility to transform into substances that pose a similar risk.
This is a large number of compounds! However, as this number is based largely on model data, uncertainty needs to be considered.
A selection of the identified substances from this assessment were considered for environmental analysis by the JPI Water PROMOTE consortium. The results from this are still emerging, but the first results indicate that many of the selected compounds are present in European drinking water sources and in drinking water.
This result is both promising and disturbing. It is promising for the assessment procedure, as it means it is possible to predict using REACH registration data which chemicals could contaminate drinking water. It is disturbing, because these results indicate there may be currently many contaminants in our drinking water, unnoticed, because we cannot analyze them yet.
PROMOTE members are therefore active in their discussions with regulators, water companies and chemical companies, concerning what we can do to address this important problem related to water quality today, as well as in future, as new chemicals are increasingly appearing on the market.
The project partners in PROMOTE include the Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung GmbH - UFZ (UFZ) for Coordination, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), University of Santiago de Compostela (USC), Hochschule Fresenius gem GmbH (HSF), University of Amsterdam (UVA), the Federal Environmental Agency of Germany (UBA) and Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI).
For more information contact Hans Peter Arp (NGI) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drinking water quality is potentially threatened by the release of chemicals that we are producing and using. If these chemicals are poorly degradable and polar or if poorly degradable and polar transformation products (TP) are formed from them, then thes e chemicals may specifically be of concern.We denote such compounds mobile organic chemicals (MOC). Such compounds may either be Chemicals registered under REACH regulation (1907/2006) or TP of such chemicals. MOC, if they are relatively stable against (m icro-) biological degradation or abiotic transformation, may be called persistent MOC (PMOC).
For PMOC dilution may be the major mechanism of concentration decrease in water cycles and they endanger source waters of drinking water Production much more tha n other emerging pollutants, because they have a high potential to break through natural or technical barriers. This is particularly likely in partially closed water cycles which we encounter in all densely
populated regions. Therefore, PROMOTE focuses on persistent mobile organic contaminants (PMOC).There are no generally applicable analytical methods for PMOC available. Consequently, knowledge on the occurrence of PMOC in aquatic compartments is very limited, which we consider most critical for source w aters used for drinking water production. Therefore it is questionable whether sufficient protection of drinking water
resources with respect to PMOC is in Place. PROMOTE focuses on the quality of source waters for drinking water and possible risks of PMO C. With this research focus and its consortium PROMOTE will link two important fields of European policy, the EU water policy and the chemicals policy (REACH). The role of the NGI as part of the PROMOTE consortium will the selection of PMOC candidates (WP 2). This will be done using the registration data of the approx. 10000 unique substances submitted to ECHA project and a complementary modelling to estimate persistence and mobility.