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, while personal care products and agricultural activities remain a source of manure-borne hormones, veterinary antibiotics, and pesticides. Water quality regulations exist for many traditional contaminants, but most CECs 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 is 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 pharmaceuticals that are expected to increase over the course of the pandemic.

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
ABE Graduate Program Coordinator
Natural Resource Engineering

Associated Members


Lara Fowler*
Senior Lecturer, Penn State Law & Assistant Director IEE

Joshua Lambert*
Professor, Food Science

Matthew Royer
Assistant Research Professor, Director Agriculture & Environment Center

Jon Sweetman
Assistant Research Professor, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management

John Tooker
Professor, Entomology

Jack Vanden Heuvel
Professor, Molecular Toxicology

Juliana Vasco-Correa*
Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering


Elizabeth Boyer*
Professor, Water Resources

Rachel Brennan*
Associate Professor, Environmental Engineering

Daniel Brent
Assistant Professor

Anil Kumar Chaudhary
Assistant Professor, Agricultural & Extension Education

Stephen Chmely*
Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Shirley Clark
Professor, Environmental Engineering

Dennis Decoteau
Professor, Horticulture & Plant Ecosystem Health

Estelle Couradeau*
Assistant Professor, Soils and Environmental Microbiology

Herschel Elliott
Professor, Agricultural & Biological Engineering

Lisa Emili
Associate Professor, Physical Geography & Environmental Studies

Jennifer Fetter
Extension Educator, Water Resources

Jill Felker
Lecturer, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Jason Keagy
Research Assistant Professor, Ecosystems Science Management

Michael Mashtare*
Assistant Professor, Agricultural & Biological Engineering

Meera Surendran Nair
Assistant Clinical Professor Resident, Veterinary Microbiology

Andrew Read*
Director, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Nathaniel Warner
Assistant Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Jack Watson
Professor, Soil Science/Soil Physics & Biogeochemistry

Related College of Agricultural Sciences Research Impact Areas