Illinois Sustainable Technology Center - University of Illinois

Emerging Contaminants in the Environment: Extending Knowledge and Mitigation Strategies

Presented by Wei Zheng - Senior Research Scientist, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Prairie Research Institute and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

September 24, 2015

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The widespread occurrence of emerging contaminants in watersheds, including pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) and steroid hormones, has been recognized as a critical environmental issue. Effluents from sewage treatment plants (STPs) and reuse of wastewater from concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs) have been identified to be the major sources discharging these emerging contaminants into the surrounding water bodies. Using these contaminated waters for agricultural irrigation may introduce wastewater-related emerging contaminants to soil and food products. Especially in arid and semi-arid regions, reclaimed wastewater is currently becoming an important source to supplement increasingly scarce fresh water sources for landscape irrigation. In this presentation, we will introduce and discuss several of our completed and ongoing projects associated with emerging contaminants. All of these projects were funded by USDA, Illinois Hazardous Research Funds, and UI Extension Initiatives Grants. In these projects, we developed isotopic dilution methods for simultaneous analysis of trace levels of emerging contaminants in a variety of environmental samples. With the developed methods, we identified and quantified the occurrence of PPCP and hormone contaminants in STP effluent and CAFO wastewater, monitored their occurrence in receiving watersheds and surrounding fields, and investigated their degradation and transport processes in water-soil systems. In addition, the potential uptake and accumulation of emerging contaminants by plants irrigated with contaminated water were further evaluated. Several pollution prevention strategies and water treatment techniques associated with emerging contaminants were developed and illustrated, including a medicine take-back program, an on-site oil-sequester treatment approach, and an artificial riverbank filtration technology. These interdisciplinary works increase public knowledge about emerging contaminants, as well as expand our research and outreach capacity by partnering with Extension personnel.

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