Emerging pollutants, including pharmaceutical compounds, are producing water pollution problems around the world. Some pharmaceutical pollutants, which mainly reach ecosystems within wastewater discharges, are persistent in the water cycle and can also reach the food chain. This work addresses this issue, accounting the grey component of the water footprint (GWFP) for four of the most common pharmaceutical compounds (carbamazepine (CBZ), diclofenac (DCF), ketoprofen (KTP) and naproxen (NPX)). In addition, the GWFC for the main conventional pollutants is also accounted (nitrate, phosphates and organic matter). The case study is the Murcia Region of southeastern Spain, where wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) purify 99.1% of the wastewater discharges and there is an important direct reuse of the treated wastewater in irrigation. Thus, the influence of WWTPs and reuse on the GWF is analysed. The results reveal that GWFP, only taking into account pharmaceutical pollutants, has a value of 301 m3 inhabitant−1 year−1; considering only conventional pollutants (GWFC), this value increases to 4718 m3 inhabitant−1 year−1. So, the difference between these values is such that in other areas with consumption habits similar to those of the Murcia Region, and without wastewater purification, conventional pollutants may well establish the value of the GWF. On average, the WWTPs reduce the GWFC by 90% and the GWFP by 26%. These different reductions of the pollutant concentrations in the treated effluents show that the GWF is not only due to conventional pollutants, and other contaminants can became critical, such as the pharmaceutical pollutants. The reuse further reduces the value of the GWF for the Murcia Region, by around 43.6%. However, the reuse of treated wastewater is controversial, considering the pharmaceutical contaminants and their possible consequences in the food chain. In these cases, the GWF of pharmaceutical pollutants can be used to provide a first approximation of the dilution that should be applied to the treated wastewater discharges when they are reused for another economic activity that imposes quality restrictions. For the case of agriculture in the Murcia Region, the dilution required is 2 (fresh water) to 1 (treated wastewater), taking into account the pollution thresholds established in this work.
Water Research – Elsevier
Published: May 15, 2018
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