Understanding the complex nature and consequences of water contaminants and providing critical data to empower effective and time-critical solutions.


Despite nearly two decades of research on the sources, fate and transport, and potential aquatic impacts of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), there is little evidence that the occurrence of these novel contaminants is decreasing.

Domestic, industrial, and hospital wastewater remain a source of pharmaceutical contaminants and personal care products, while agricultural activities remain a source of manure-borne hormones, veterinary antibiotics, and pesticides. Water quality regulations exist for many traditional contaminants, but most CECs do not have water quality standards and remain unregulated. Further, wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove such contaminants; any removal is coincidental rather than deliberate. Agricultural best management practices (BMPs) have been specifically designed and adopted with the goal of reducing nutrients and sediment from runoff, but the co-benefits or potential unintended negative impacts of these practices on CEC fate and transport remains understudied. The increasing use of treated wastewater, especially for agricultural spray-irrigation, inadvertently introduces CECs into the terrestrial environment, and eventually into surface water, groundwater aquifers, and/or the crops themselves.

Wastewater has also recently become the focus of great interest as it has been leveraged for critical community-level decision making to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Wastewater can be used in surveillance efforts to understand the presence of pathogens, such as SARS-CoV-2, and related pharmaceuticals. Wastewater surveillance provides an excellent window into the physical and mental health of residents at a community scale.

Researchers in this initiative are seeking to not only understand the impacts of individual and mixtures of CECs on ecosystem and human health, but to design and assess solutions for improving the treatment of CECs in wastewater treatment plants, water reclamation facilities, and drinking water treatment plants. Research programs in this initiative not only address critical research needs, but can be immediately used in critical decision-making efforts.


Heather Preisendanz, Ph.D. 
Associate Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Director, Institute of Sustainable Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences

Jon Sweetman, Ph.D
Assistant Research Professor, Ecosystem Science and Management

Associated Members



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