Fate and Management of Emerging Contaminants (FAME)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering


Owing to on-going demographic shifts, urbanisation and changing life styles supported by rapid industrialisation, pollution by so-called emerging contaminants (ECs) is an emerging environmental and public health concern in India, the UK and globally. Pharmaceuticals, personal-care products, pesticides & industrial compounds, are collectively known as ECs. They lead to, among other effects, increasing antibiotic resistance and endocrine disruption in aquatic animals and possibly humans. Conventional wastewater treatment plants (WTPs) have a mixed performance in dealing with such contaminants and might even be adversely affected by the ECs in treating more conventional pollutants. There is also evidence that WTPs can act as reservoirs of antibiotic resistant pathogenic bacteria. Due to limited availability of data, the fate of ECs in the environment and wastewater treatment remains under-investigated, limiting our ability to provide targeted cost effective treatment.

The research aims to study the sources and fate of ECs and their interactions in receiving waters and WTPs and develop novel and sustainable management strategies to improve water quality. In the project, two rivers will be monitored: the Yamuna in the north (in the most polluted stretch, contributing to 70% of Delhi's water supply needs) & the Cauvery in the south (the most abstracted river in India). Investigations will also be made on the fate of ECs during wastewater and sludge treatment line at 10 WTPs in India and compared with selected plants in the UK. Investigations will also include, the fate of ECs during the treatment and use of bio-solids. The work will help to develop evidence based wastewater discharge standards and guidance for safe use of contaminated sludge. We will also look to develop novel, cost effective and fit for purpose solutions for the treatment of ECs in urban and rural communities. Several approaches will be investigated including zero/limited energy consuming natural treatment systems configurations; and space saving systems based on the development and novel application of a new generation of adsorbents; energy efficient membranes and chemicals free treatment. The work will help the development of design and operation guidance for optimal treatment systems requiring limited input from O&M staff. Finally, we intend to develop a novel decision support system to automatically generate and identify sustainable treatment strategies as a function of user defined constraints and contexts. This will serve as a negotiation tool to visualise the impact of different stakeholders objectives and preferences. The tool will be trialled with a range of end users in India and UK.

Planned Impact

The targeted groups are end user communities (e.g. water/wastewater technology developer and operators, environmental regulators, public) and scientific communities (researchers and academics). While initial impact generation focuses on India and the UK, FAME has enormous potential for global impact. Specific impacts include.

Economic: FAME will support anticipated industrial growth without compromising environmental/water quality regulations. The Indian and global market for products responsible for ECs emission and associated water pollution continues to grow enormously. For example, India loses INR 366 billion per year due to water pollution triggered health issues. FAME treatment solutions will support the wastewater industry and government to minimise this ever increasing economic loss. Effective policy making requires consultation with various stakeholders and consensus building. With our open access DSS application in the 29 Indian states and union territories via CPCB, the identification of context-specific sustainable solutions and technology investment/financing decisions will become faster. This will support the treatment of currently untreated effluents (>40 million m3/day). Innovations in advanced oxidation process through chemical free pulsed power technology (AOP-PPT) could result in user friendly plant operation by a less skilled labour force (a desirable feature in India) and could lead to several industrial applications. AOP-PPT can support this level of economic activity without compromising water quality regulations. Novel graphene based adsorbents, able to reduce post treatment infrastructure construction and operation and maintenance costs, will offer considerable potential for water production for potable and industrial applications. It can support the adsorbent manufacturers and suppliers markets globally.

Environmental and societal: Through monitoring the Yamuna River and the Cauvery River and wastewater treatment plants, FAME's evidence base will directly influence the development and updating of regulators' standards, thus contributing to the protection of the aquatic environment and improved human wellbeing. India will have 7 megacities by 2030, meaning further densification of heavily congested urban areas and need for decentralised systems. The novel compact solutions can support sustainable locally and facilitate community scale greywater reuse. Graphene based adsorbents could be used for cost-effective removal of other pollutants (e.g. arsenic, fluoride and nitrates), frequently detected in groundwater in India, Bangladesh, China, the USA (i.e. globally), from drinking water in an energy efficient manner. FAME specifically targets sustainable development and poverty alleviation as project goals. The nature of issues for many ODA List developing countries is similar to the challenges in India. Research outputs will support international development policies (e.g. UK Aid Strategy and UN Sustainable Development Goals - Target 6 and its sub targets).

People: The junior members of the FAME team (i.e. 5 PhD students and 6 PDRAs) will develop important research skills for advanced water quality analysis techniques, multi-objective optimisation, new materials synthesis, technology miniaturisation and community engagement, building research capability and the workforce within the UK and India. The 16 project partners will have opportunities to exchange, access, influence, implement and co-create knowledge and cross fertilise new ideas.


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Delhiraja K (2020) Characterization of segregated greywater from Indian households-part B: emerging contaminants. in Environmental monitoring and assessment

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Manthiram Karthik R (2021) Sorption of pharmaceutical compounds and nutrients by various porous low cost adsorbents in Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering

Description A successful synthesis of graphene based materials and lab investigations indicate that porous graphene offers a good potential to treat selected emerging contaminants
Exploitation Route Further effort may be focused on developing a proto-type treatment using the investigated porous graphene
Sectors Chemicals,Environment