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Emerging Pollutants in Water and Wastewater

New and emerging pollutants present a new global water quality challenge with potentially-serious threats to human health and ecosystems. Good quality water is essential to sustain human well-being, livelihoods and a healthy environment for the post-2015 sustainable development.
The project, implemented under UNESCO-IHP International Initiative on Water Quality (IIWQ), aims to address this urgent need and support UNESCO Member States to strengthen their scientific, technical and policy capacities to manage human health and environmental risks caused by emerging pollutants in water and wastewater. Consequently, the strengthening of these capacities of Member States will help improve water quality and wastewater management, including safe reuse of wastewater, and enhance water and food security.

This UNESCO Project on “Emerging Pollutants in Wastewater Reuse in Developing Countries” is fully funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) under the Programme Cooperation Agreement between UNESCO and Sweden for 2014-2017.

Emerging pollutants can be understood in a broad sense as any synthetic or naturally-occurring chemical or any microorganism that is not commonly monitored or regulated in the environment with potentially known or suspected adverse ecological and human health effects. These contaminants include mainly chemicals found in pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, industrial and household products, metals, surfactants, industrial additives and solvents. Many of them are used and released continuously into the environment even in very low quantities and some may cause chronic toxicity, endocrine disruption in humans and aquatic wildlife and the development of bacterial pathogen resistance.
Scientific knowledge and understanding on potential human and ecosystem health risks posed by emerging pollutants is still very scarce, as well as on their presence in water resources and wastewater and their pathways and accumulation in the environment. Most emerging pollutants are not regulated in environmental, water quality and wastewater discharge regulations. Hence, there is an urgent need to strengthen scientific knowledge and adopt appropriate technological and policy approaches to monitor emerging pollutants in water resources and wastewater, assess their potential human health and environmental risks, and prevent and control their disposal to water resources and the environment.
This project contributes to the attainment of the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goal targets on water quality and wastewater. Particularly, emerging pollutants are addressed under the following 2030 Agenda’s goals and targets: 

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

  • Target 6.1: Achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
  • Target 6.3: Improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally

  • Target 1.4: Ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance

  • Target 3.3: End the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases 
  • Target 3.9: Substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination

  • Target 12.4: Achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment

  • Target 15.1: Ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements
The project builds on UNESCO’s past activities and efforts on emerging pollutants, including: