‘Invisible pollutants’ in focus at world water week


An estimated two million tonnes of human waste are disposed of in watercourses every day, with water pollution from emerging chemical pollutants like nanoparticles an issue of particular concern at this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm.

While improvements have been made in some regions, “water pollution is on the rise globally,” said the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

According to SIWI, an estimated two million tonnes of human waste are disposed of in watercourses every day and 70% of industrial wastes in developing countries are being dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply.

Of particular concern to many experts was the threat to water quality from emerging pollutants, which are man-made chemicals introduced into the environment by human activities.

The invisible threat

Referred to as “the invisible threat” the pollutants included in water entering our sewage system include nano particles, chemicals and pharmaceutical residues.

Nano particles can end up in water from household appliances, cosmetics, clothes and food for example. The chemicals concerned can range from pesticides to flame retardants, steroids and hormones from birth-control pills.

Researchers have shown that some chemicals have feminising effects on the fish male population in rivers and lakes all over the world, thus threatening reproduction and food security.

According to Professor Malin Falkenmark, a senior scientific advisor to the SIWI, concern over these pollutants has been rising especially over the last 20 years, with greater incidences of human organ disorders, chemical accumulation in human tissue and testicular and breast cancers.

There are also increased problems with fertility and the neurological system, she added.

Continued focus

A new seminar entitled ‘Emerging Pollutants in Water Resources’ was launched this year and will be continued at future World Water Weeks.

The recurring seminar will examine how people are affected by the new substances, how their entry to the water cycle can be prevented, and how treatment plants could be adapted to deal with the new challenges.

Anders Berntell, executive director of SIWI, said that “the best way to stop the spread of micro-pollutants is not to allow their entrance into the sewage system to begin with.”

He said this also raises the of question of whether more efficient wastewater treatment, are needed.

The World Water Week is an annual event, organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute. It acts as a forum for the exchange of a international range of views and experiences from scientific, business, policy and civil society sectors.


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