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Emerging Contaminants

Emerging contaminants (ECs) have long been a topic of concern in the water treatment industry. They consist of natural and synthetic chemicals and their transformation products, which occur in water bodies around the world including groundwater, surface water, municipal wastewater, drinking water and food sources. Their presence, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), pesticides, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, in water bodies is a serious problem in many countries.¹

ECs are not currently monitored to the same degree as other well-known contaminants, but are highly capable of causing environmental damage and suspected harmful effects on ecosystems and human health.

Conventional water treatment processes are not designed to remove these compounds and simultaneously, they produce a huge amount of contaminated sludge. Advanced water treatment technologies, such as membrane filtration i.e. ultrafiltration (UF), nanofiltration (NF) and reverse osmosis (RO), ozone and catalytic oxidation, and membrane bioreactors (MBRs), could partially remove some ECs, but these solutions have their limitations and are not cost-effective.¹

Four emerging contaminants are increasingly causing significant concern:

  1. Per- and Poly-fluroalkyl substances (PFAS)
  2. Disinfection By-Products (DBPs)
  3. Blue-Green Algae
  4. Glyphosate
Emerging ContaminantsEmerging Contaminants

Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals used across a wide range of applications in both household and industrial contexts.

PFAS is increasingly spreading throughout the environment, accumulating in humans, animals and water resources. This poses major environmental and health concerns as these substances do not break down in the environment and build-up in animals and humans when ingested. Research increasingly reveals the harmful effects of PFAS, including increased risk of cancer and hormone disruption in humans, and organ damage in animals.

Infinite Water's Research & Development Team have demonstrated how our Hydroxon™ technology provides a cost-effective solution for remediation of PFAS in water (both removal and degradation).

PFAS SourcesPFAS Sources

Disinfection By-Products (DBPs)

Chlorine is the most widely used chemical to disinfect surface, ground, waste and/or storm water. When chlorine reacts with organic compounds, Disinfection By-Products (DBPs) are created. Research shows that DBPs such as trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) are carcinogenic.

People are exposed to THMs and HAAs in chlorinated water most commonly through drinking, showering and swimming. Related health issues can include respiratory problems, cancers, anaemia, and harmful effects on the reproductive cycle such as birth defects and damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.

Disinfection By-Products (DBPs)Disinfection By-Products (DBPs)

Blue-Green Algae

Blue-Green Algae (BGA) (also known as Cyanobacteria) are formed in the presence of nutrient-rich warm water conditions, such as phosphorous and nitrogen. BGA blooms are formed typically in freshwater and can release odorous cyanobacterial toxins.  The resultant scums can reach agricultural and municipal water supplies.

Water affected with BGA contains toxins not suitable for drinking, recreational and agricultural use. Waterways with these toxins affect fish populations by causing oxygen depletion. Domestic or livestock animals may become ill or even die if they are in contact with or ingest toxic algae. If the blooms reach human water supply, they can cause skin irritation, respiratory effects and gastroenteritis.


Glyphosate is the active chemical ingredient in the common herbicide Roundup, which has been used extensively in agricultural and residential areas since 1974. Glyphosate kills plants by inhibiting the shikimic acid pathway, damaging the ability to make a protein essential for growth.

The abundant use of Roundup in agriculture and industry, means glyphosate is increasingly finding its way across the food chain, accumulating in the environment, humans and animals.

Research reveals the detrimental effects of glyphosate includes toxicity in humans, animals and harmful ecological effects. In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reclassified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen to humans. The chemical has also caused alarm bells regarding our reproductive system as studies show toxic effects on human placental cells.

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1. Sarkar et. al, Industrial and Municipal Sludge: Emerging Concerns and Scope for Resource Recovery, (United Kingdom, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2019), 553.