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Abstract

The presence of emerging micropollutants such as pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, personal care products, nanomaterials and perfluorinated substances in the environment remains a great threat to the health and safety of humans and aquatic species. These micropollutants enter the environment via anthropogenic activities and have been detected in surface water, groundwater and even drinking water at nanogram per litre to microgram per litre concentration. To date, limited information exists on the fate, behaviours, and pathways of these micropollutants in the environment. The potential ecotoxicological effects on the receptors due to exposure to individual or mixture of these chemicals still remain unknown. This review provides an overview on pharmaceuticals, endocrine disrupting compounds, personal care products, nanomaterials and perfluorinated pollutants, with emphasis on their occurrences, effects, environmental fates, and potential risk of exposure in water, soil or sediment. Based on the literature survey, it was found that in spite of an extensive research and different developmental efforts on the challenges of emerging micropollutants, the solution to the problem of emerging micropollutants in the environment is far from being solved. The needs for behavioural change among citizens, strong political will and policy formulation on the part of government are identified as possible panacea for combating the growing influence of these potential damaging substances. Suggestions on proactive and precautionary measures that must be taken to protect the environment as well as guarantee the health and safety of humans and aquatic species are provided. Future research should concentrate on the development of a risk based screening models and framework that can predict the sources, fate and behaviours of emerging contaminants in the environment is recommended.
REVIEW
Pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, personal care products,
nanomaterials and perfluorinated pollutants: a review
Jimoh O. Tijani
1
Ojo O. Fatoba
1
Omotola O. Babajide
1
Leslie F. Petrik
1
Received: 15 March 2015 / Accepted: 27 October 2015
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
Abstract The presence of emerging micropollutants such
as pharmaceuticals, endocr ine disruptors, personal care
products, nanomaterials and perfluorinated substances in
the environment remains a great threat to the health and
safety of humans and aquatic species. These micropollu-
tants enter the environment via anthropogenic activities
and have been detected in surface water, groundwater and
even drinking water at nanogram per litre to microgram per
litre concentration. To date, limited information exists on
the fate, behaviours, and pathways of these micropollutants
in the environment. The potential ecotoxicological effects
on the receptors due to exposure to individual or mixture of
these chemicals still remain unknown. This review pro-
vides an overview on pharmaceuticals, endocrine disrupt-
ing compounds, personal care products, nanomaterials and
perfluorinated pollutants, with emphasis on their occur-
rences, effects, environmental fates, and potential risk of
exposure in water, soil or sediment. Based on the literature
survey, it was found that in spite of an extensive research
and different developmental efforts on the challenges of
emerging micropollutants, the solution to the problem of
emerging micropollutants in the environment is far from
being solved. The needs for behavioural change among
citizens, strong political will and policy formulation on the
part of government are identified as possible panacea for
combating the growing influence of these potential dam-
aging substances. Suggestions on proactive and precau-
tionary measures that must be taken to protect the
environment as well as guarantee the health and safety of
humans and aquatic species are provided. Future research
should concentrate on the development of a risk based
screening models and framework that can predict the
sources, fate and behaviours of emerging contaminants in
the environment is recommended.
Keywords Emerging chemical contaminants Endocrine
disrupting compounds Exposure risk Environmental fate
Introduction
In recent times, the production and consum ption of
chemically manufactured products by consumers have
been linked to growing environmental pollution and dif-
ferent health challenges. This growing environmental pol-
lution which has attracted considerable global scientific
attention cannot be attributed to the activities of the
chemical and pharmaceutical industries or the climate
change alone (Phillips et al. 2010). Other anthropogenic
activities such as mining, agricultural, domestic activities
and urbanisation also contribute immensely to the higher
pollution index and hinder the availability of sustainable
water supply. Currently, the pollution of the global water
cycle with persistent organic contaminants remains one of
the major challenges of the 21st century. The majority of
these organic substances are only partially removed by
conventional wastewater treatment plants. However, many
of these contaminants escape into the environment and
spread across different ecological compartments. These
complex compounds are polar or semi-polar and are known
to exhibit both acidic and basic functional groups in
aqueous medium. Besides, these substances are mobile,
ubiquitous, persistent and bioaccumulate in wildlife and
& Jimoh O. Tijani
3282790@myuwc.ac.za; jtijani@uwc.ac.za
1
Environmental and Nano Sciences Group, Department of
Chemistry, University of the Western Cape,
Private Bag X17, Bellville, South Africa
123
Environ Chem Lett
DOI 10.1007/s10311-015-0537-z
human tissue, thus raising a number of questions regarding
the safety of citizens (Fawell and Ong 2012; Focazio et al.
2008; Nam et al. 2014). Persistent organic contaminants
are mostly unregulated or in the process of regulat ion, yet
possess potent endocrine disrupting properties and interfere
with the hormonal function in the body (Gavrilescu et al.
2015; Milic
´
et al. 2013).
With advances in analytical techniques, such as high-per-
formance liquid-chromatography-coupled mass spectrometry
(HPLC–MS), liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry
tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS), a wide array of
previously undetected compounds in a complex environ-
mental matrix have been identified and quantified at low
microgram or nanogram-per-litre concentration (Fawell and
Ong 2012; Rivera-Utrilla et al. 2013). These groups of sub-
stances have collectively been called contaminants of
emerging concern or chemicals of emerging concern and have
attracted significant research interest among the major inter-
national organisations such as World Health Organization
(WHO), United States Geological Survey (USGS), United
States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the
European Commission (EU). It is should be noted that while
some previously used, harmful chemicals such as polychlo-
rinated biphenyls, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, chlor-
dane, are being phased out of circulation. New chemicals are
being manufactured and incorporated into products to meet
human beneficial purposes namely toothpastes, soaps, per-
fumes, artificial sweeteners, insect repellents, deodorants,
prescribed drugs, plastic bottles and pipes, among others.
Most of these synthetic products containing chemicals of
emerging concern are not really new in the market. Never-
theless, most chemical of emerging concern in the products
are not yet properly regulated and may exert serious health
effects on consumers. Contaminants of emerging concern
include a wide array of different compounds and their
metabolites such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products,
endocrine disrupting compounds, pesticides, disinfection-by
products, flame retardants, nanomaterials, veterinary
medicines, among others (Al-Rifai et al. 2011; Duong et al.
2008, 2014;Gongetal.2011;Heberer2002;Houtman2010;
Fawell and Ong 2012; Kumar and Xagoraraki 2010;Lapworth
et al. 2012; Postigo and Barcelo 2014; Sun et al. 2014).
The perceived toxici ty of emerging contaminants in
manufactured products has recently become a subject of
intense debate and a global issue of public health concern
due to their individual or synergistic actions on humans and
the ecosystem. (Jiang et al. 2013; Kolle et al. 2013; Trapido
et al. 2014; Manickum and John 2014). This interest is
reflected in a growing number of scientific publications
focusing on analytical method development, removal
techniques, and environmental monitoring and risk
assessment to name just a few aspects (Ku
¨
mmerer 2011;
Mompelat et al. 2009; Sanchez-Avila et al. 2012 ).
However, chemicals of emerging concern have no clear
definition; hence, no comprehensive list exists and their
interactions are complex, and therefore different definitions
have been proposed. Ku
¨
mmerer (2011) defined emerging
micropollutants as unregulated compounds or ones with
limited regulation which are present in the environment at
low lg/L range and below, irrespective of their chemical
structure and which thus require monitoring. Marcoux et al.
(2013) summarised emerging micropollutants as newly
detected substances in the environment or those already
identified as risky and whose use in items is prohibited, or
substances already known but whose recent use in products
can cause problems during their future treatment as waste.
According to US Geological Society (2014), emerging
contaminants are any synthetic or naturally occurring
chemical or any microorganism or metabolites that is not
commonly monitored in the environment but has the
potential to enter the environment and cause known or
suspected adverse ecological and/or human health effects.
Currently, there is a growing accumulation of emerging
organic pollutants in the environmental matrix caused by
careless disposal occasioned by the absence of stringent
regulatory framework or lack of compliance with the
existing environmental protection laws (Bell et al. 2011;
Breivik et al. 2011; Esplu gas et al. 2007; Manickum and
John 2014). Reliable evidence from literature regarding
associated adverse environmental and health effects of
emerging contam inants on human beings has been limited,
and the effects of exposure to multifaceted combinations of
these modulators remain poorly understood (Bruce et al.
2010; Schaider et al. 2014; WHO 2011). However, there
have been documented effects of exposu re in aquatic spe-
cies to chemicals of emerging concern. Currently, it has
been established that continuous exposure to endocr ine
disruptors might result in serious transgenerational health
effects on humans and wildlife, if care is not taken (Dmi-
truk et al. 2008; Fatoki and Opeolu 2009; Ferraz et al.
2007). It is therefore of paramount importance to under-
stand the sources, pathways and the associated risk of
exposure so as to prevent short- and long-term health
implications.
The threat posed by emerging micropollutants with
endocrine disrupting activity in the environment were first
articulated in Carson’s (1962) work ‘The Silent Spring’
(Carson 1962, 2002). That was followed by extensive
research conducted in the Western world (Fatoki and Opeolu
2009; Matthiesen 2000). Ever since then, extensive research
vis-a-viz formulation of an adequate regulatory framework
has been carried out in the developed world. Today, sever al
reviews and published articles have confirmed the presence
of endocrine disrupting pharmaceuticals in the environment
(Bu et al. 2013; Dalvie et al. 2014; Olujimi et al. 2010, 2012;
Manickum and John 2014; Petrie et al. 2015; Sauve
´
and
Environ Chem Lett
123
Desrosiers 2014 ). This was also corroborated by the WHO/
UNEP (2013) World Health Organization and United
Nations Environmental Programme report of 2013 which
states that a number of nations including developing coun-
tries are at risk of imminent complicated health challenges
due to the occurrence of pharmaceutically active compounds
in their water system (Bergman et al. 2013). Currently, large
numbers of these contaminants have been reported in water
sampled in USA, China, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Holland,
including South Africa due to lack of standardised disc harge
limits (Focazio et al. 2008; Jin and Peldszus 2012; Padhye
et al. 2014a; Swati et al. 2008).
Despite the Stockholm Convention known as the Per-
sistent Organic Pollutants Treaty of 2001 and the Berlay-
mont Declaration of 2013 to protect humans and aquatic
species from risks associated with exposure to these con-
taminants and despite different monitoring programmes in
most advanced countries, the number of exogenous
chemicals in the environmental is on the increase (Fatoki
et al. 2010; Phillips et al. 2010; Whitworth et al. 2012).
Considering the growing environmental problems due to
the ubiquitous increase in the number of emerging con-
taminants coupled with the shortcomings associated with
the conventional wastewater treatment plants globally. It is
imperative to have a better understanding of their occur-
rence, environmental fate and exposure risk on humans and
other species in view of the wide research gaps. Therefore,
this review presents an overview on the state-of-art as
regards chemicals of emerging concern such as pharma-
ceuticals, endocrine disrupting compounds, personal care
products, nanomaterials and perfluorinated pollutants.
Furthermore, emphasis is placed on the different types of
chemicals of emerging concern, their sources, effects,
environmental fate and exposure risk. Finally, proactive
and precautionary measures that must be taken to protect
the environment as well as guarantee the health and safety
of humans and aquatic species are suggested.
Categories of chemicals of emerging concern
Different categories of chemicals containing products man-
ufactured to meet human needs ranging from cleansing
agents, pharmaceuticals (both prescribed and over the
counter drugs), cosmetics, fragrances, and personal care
products to mention but a few are widely used globally.
Others include artificial sweeteners, insect repellents, pesti-
cides, industrial additives, nanoparticles, synthetic hor-
mones, perfluorinated compounds, flame retardants (Kolpin
et al. 2002). Most of these chemical compounds are either
unregulated or in the process of being regulated but have
endocrine disrupting properties which have generated public
health concerns. In Europe significant reductions in the level
of emerging micropollutants in water have been reported as
contained in the European Water Framework Directive (EC
Directive 2000/06/EC) and daughter directive 2008/105/EC
(EC 2008). Developing countries are yet to come to terms
with the need to standardise their environmental regulatory
framework on emerging micropollutants (Pomie
`
setal.
2013). Recent monitoring studies have confirmed the pres-
ence of these xenobiotics in different environmental samples
in developing countries (Olujimi et al. 2012;Sorensenetal.
2015). Different classes of chemicals of emerging concern
which include pharmaceuticals, personal care products,
endocrine disrupting compounds, nanomaterials and perflu-
orinated pollutants are represented in Fig. 1.
Pharmaceuticals
Pharmaceuticals are any synthesised or natural chemical
compounds designed to cure and prevent the spread of
diseases as well as adding value to human and animal life
(Maletz et al. 2013 ). According to Daghrir and Drogui
(2013) pharmaceuticals are active substances given to
animals to accelerate their feeding efficiency and growth
rate. Pharmaceuticals have different chemical structure,
behaviour, applications and metabolism in the human and
animal body and hence the environment (Fawell and Ong
2012; Jiang et al. 2013). Pharmaceuticals are classified
based on their therapeutic uses into the followings:
antibiotics (ciprofloxacin), anti-diabetics (sulfonylurea),
anti-epileptic (carbamazepine), antimicrobials (penicillins),
anti-inflammatories and analgesics (ketoprofen, diclofe-
nac), antiulcer and antihistamine drugs (ranitidine and
famotidine), anti-anxi ety/hypnotic agents (diazepam), lipid
regulators (Clofibrate) to mention but a few (Esplugas et al.
2007; Jiang et al. 2013; Kanakaraju et al. 2014; Rivera-
Utrilla et al. 2013 ). Mompelat et al. (2009) classified
humans and animals pharmaceuticals and metabolites into
24 different classes, out of which 4 classes were most
predominantly found in water , which includes non-ster-
oidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anticonvulsants,
antibiotics and lipid regulators. Very recently, Bruce et al.
(2010) and Rivera-Utrilla et al. (2013) independently cat-
egorised pharmaceutical into: anti-inflammatories and
analgesics (paracetamol, ibuprofen), antidepressants (ben-
zodiazine-pines), antiepileptics (carbamazepine), lipid-
lowering drugs (fibrates), b-blockers (atenolol, metopro-
lol), antiulcer and antihistamines drugs (famotidine), anti-
cancer drugs (cyclophosphamide, ifosfamide), antibiotics
(tetracyclines), tranquilizers, antipyretics and stimulants.
Van Doorslaer et al. (2014) reported that more than 5000
pharmaceuticals were synthesised and made available in
the market for human and animal consumption. Currently,
the global annual drug consumption figures is in the range
Environ Chem Lett
123
of 100,000–200,000 tons with countries such as Brazil,
Russia, India, China, and South Africa having greater
proportion. Most of these drugs can be administered orally
or by injection but due to their incomplet e metabolism in
humans and animals, part of the drugs may be excreted in
urine or faeces and eventually end up in wastewater
treatment plants. Due to growing utilisation of pharma-
ceuticals by human and animal, couple with non-c omplete
assimilation in the body, original or partially metabolised
drugs have been identified in the environment. These
contaminants are stable and difficult to degrade by con-
ventional wastewa ter treatment plants, thus escape the
wastewater treatment plants into the environment (Baker
and Kasprzyk-Horden 2013). Ever since early 2000s, there
have been extensive research focusing on the detection of
pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical residue in water
sources (Kanakaraju et al. 2014). Kleywegt et al. (2011)
reported the detection of over 30 different pharmaceuticals
in finished drinking water across the world. Exposure to
pharmaceuticals and its metabolites via food or water may
have short- and long-term health impacts on human and
aquatic species depending on the dose and the durations
(Daghrir and Drogui 2013). Some of the adverse effects on
humans and other ecological species including disruptions
of endocrine system, chronic toxicity and increase drug-
resistant bacterial strains. For instance, Daghrir and Drogui
(2013) reported that the exposure to tetracycline residue
resulted in the slow growth of terrestrial and aquatic spe-
cies, signifying that tetracycline antibiotics possessed
endocrine disrupting propert ies. Thus, excessive con-
sumption of tetracycline should be avoided. The main
concern of the environmentalist is not about the acute toxic
nature of the pharmaceuticals but rather their chronic
toxicity on exposed organisms (Jiang et al. 2013). These
pharmaceutically active compounds have been identified in
different environmental water samples such as surface,
Types of chemicals
of emerging
concern
Pharmaceuticals
Endocrine
Disrupting compound
Personal care
product
Nanomaterials
TiO
2
ZnO
nZVI
Perfluorinated
compounds
Antibiotics
(ciprofloxacins)
Anti-diabetics
(sulphonylurea)
Anti-epileptic
(carbamazepine)
Antimicrobials
(penicillins)
Anti-inflammatories and
analgestics
(diclofenac, ketoprofen)
Anti-ulcer and
antihistamine
(ranitidine)
Anti-retrovirals
(Lamivudine)
Antimalarial
(cinchonidine)
Phenolic
compounds
nitrophenol
Phenol
chlorophenol
Xenostrogens; estradiol,
17α -ethinylestradiol
bisphenol A(BPA)
Disinfectants
Triclosan
chloroprene
Perfluorodecanoic
acid (pFDA)
Fig. 1 Various class of emerging micropollutants in the environment (Fawell and Ong 2012; Jiang et al. 2013). Legend nZVI (nano zero valent
iron particles)
Environ Chem Lett
123
ground or wastewaters in China, USA, Holland, Spain,
Germany, Canada, Brazil and even in South Africa (Chen
et al. 2011; Rivera-Utrilla et al. 2013; Yan et al. 2014). In a
related study, Matongo et al. (2015) investigated the
presence of pharmaceuticals such as sulfamethazine, sul-
famethoxazole, erythromycin, metronidazole, trimetho-
prim, acetaminophen, caffeine, carbamazepine, clozapine
and ibuprofen in the Umgeni River, in the city of Durban in
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The authors found that
clozapine had the highest concentration of 78.33 lg/L in
the surface waters of Umgeni River while ibuprofen was
found most in the sediment with a concentration of
62.0 lg/L. The authors ascribed the high level of these
compounds to inefficiency on the part of the wastewater
treatment processes as well as human activities. According
to Hughes et al. (2013), over 200 pharmaceutically active
substances have been identified in river water s with
ciprofloxacin having maximum concentration of 6.5 mg/L.
The concentration of detected pharmaceuticals in water is
conspicuous; nevertheless, the quantified amounts differ
from country to country depending on a number of critical
factors such as the consumption pattern, or population size
to mention but two. The fate and behaviour of most
pharmaceuticals in the environment are als o diverse and
complex, and at the moment there is limited knowledge in
the lite rature in this regard. Most pharmaceutical products
are hydrophilic in nature, soluble in water, easily break
down and have a short life span (Fent et al. 2006; Fent
2008), while some pharmaceuticals such as naproxen, or
sulfamethoxazole can remain in the environment without
degradation for more than a year. Clofibric acid, on the
other hand, takes sever al years to decompose depending on
the environmental media. Depending on the local industrial
output, the age of wastewater treatment plant, rainfall
pattern and other factors, a significant amount of the con-
taminants are conjugated and are found in the natural
aquatic environment (Baker and Kasprzyk-Horden 2013).
Pharmaceuticals enter wastewater treatment plants via
multiple routes such as domestic sewage, septic tanks,
landfill sites, industrial effluents, urban wastewater, agri-
cultural practices, showering and bathing and eventually
enter the water cycle as shown in Fig. 2 (Rodil et al. 2012).
Others routes through which emerging contaminants get
introduced into the environment including recreational
activities, human excretion, direct discharge from phar-
maceutical production plants (Daghrir and Drogui 2013 ).
Endocrine disrupting compounds
Endocrine systems comprise the endocrine glands, hor-
mones and receptors that regulate the body’s physiological
activities such as reproductive processes including
embryonic development, sex differentiation and metabolic
development (Flint et al. 2012). Endocrine glands secrete
hormones which circulate within the body through the
blood stream. However, it has been found that a certain
group of compounds mimic or disrupt endocrine glands
from functioning properly. These compounds have been
called endocrine disrupting compounds and are also known
as endocrine disrupting chemicals, or endocrine disruptors,
or endocrine modulators. Endocrine disrupting compounds
can be natural or artificial chemicals; however, they
interact with the oestrogenic receptors and enhance or
inhibit the hormones from functioning properly (Jackson
and Sutton 2008). Diamanti-Kandarakis et al. (2009)
defined endocrine disruptors as compounds that interfere
with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action, or
elimination of natural hormones in the body that are
responsible for developm ent, behaviour, fertility, and
maintenance of homoeostasis (normal cell metabolism).
These xenobiotics are present in most manufactured con-
sumer products ranging from plastic bottles, children toys,
cosmetics, toothpaste, detergent, polyvinylchloride pipes
among others. Endocrine disrupting compounds cause
adverse effects on aquatic organisms or their progeny via
alteration of chemical messengers of the body or binding to
receptors of the endocrine system at exposure levels up to a
million times lower than carcinogen exposure levels of
concern (Burger and Nel 2008; Olujimi et al. 2010). Cases
of intersex alteration among alligators, frogs and fish upon
exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals are no longer
disputable facts (A neck-Hahn et al. 2009). Among the
endocrine disrupting compounds that have attracted recent
scientific attention due to their production output and
consumption pattern include phthalates, phenolic com-
pounds (bisphenol-A, nitrophenol, nonylphenol, alkylphe-
nol, and chlorophenols), triclosan, ethinylestradiol,
diethylstilbestrol, 17b-estradiol. More chemicals may be
recognised as endocrine disrupters as the list of compounds
increases due to unanticipated effects (Ferraz et al. 2007;
Fatoki and Opeolu 2009). There are concerted efforts in the
western world to provide an up to date list and regulation of
persistent emerging contaminants (Pomie
`
s et al. 2013).
Despite the fact that there is little epidemiologi cal data
regarding the impact of endocrine disruptors exposu re on
human health, there are increasing incidences of adverse
effects such as abnormal sperm count among male and
females, high rates of infertility, accelerated ovarian,
prostate, testicular and breast cancer among humans.
Exposure to endocr ine disrupting compounds has been
reported to cause immune deficiency, neurological effects,
impairment of intellectual and childhood development and
psychological effects. The absence of a precautionary
principle and regulated monitoring is responsible for the
increasing concentration of micro-pollutants in the
Environ Chem Lett
123
environment and has given rise to increasing public con-
cern over the presence of endocrine disrupting compounds
in drinking water. Proper identification, quantification as
well as effective treatment strategies will be needed to
remove these compounds from the water system.
Mechanism of endocrine disruption
within the body
The mechanism of endocrine disrupting pharmaceuticals
on the hormonal system of the body is a complex phe-
nomenon and difficult to predict since compounds exist as
mixtures. However, a review of various studies reveal that
disruption can take place via multiple routes listed below:
The contaminants can bind to the nuclear and hormonal
receptor cells or sometimes block or mimic the chemical
messengers in the body and cause considerable adverse
ecological health effects. Endocrine disruptors some-
times alter the response activity of genes. For instance,
bisphenol-A can bind to oestrogen receptor b based on its
lower affinity compared to estradiol (Rogers et al. 2013).
The concentrations or level of the chemical messen-
gers/hormones in the body may be affected via
alteration of their metabolic or synthetic pathways
(Olujimi et al. 2010).
Interference with the hormonal-controlled physiologi-
cal signals responsible for body homoeostasis and
development is often evident.
Lastly, modification or modulation of certain numbers
of chemical messenger receptor within the body cell
responsible for the immune system.
Personal care products
Personal care products are made up of a large group of
active and inert substances including prescribed and non-
prescribed pharmaceuticals utilised by people and animals
(Jiang et al. 2013). They include analgesics, synthetic
hormones, sun screens, insect repellent, cosmetics, fra-
grances, preservatives, shampoos and toiletries. Unlike
pharmaceuticals that are ingested, personal care products
are applied directly on the human b ody to change appear-
ance, taste and odour. Personal care products are cate-
gorised into polycyclic musks and parabens used to inhibit
bacterial decay (Fawell and Ong 2012 ; Houtman 2010 ).
Furthermore, disinfectants such as triclosan and chloro-
prene have been used industrially in the manufacture of
consumer products such as air-fresheners, hand soap,
toothpaste, sportswear, plastics, toys, lotions, medical dis-
infectants and mouthwash (Fawell and Ong 2012). In the
same vein, benzophenone and alkylated siloxanes are
incorporated in sun-screen lotions and hair-care products.
The micropollutants enter the aquatic environments
including surface water through recreational activities such
as swimming and also via showering and bathing as well as
other technological process (Larsson et al. 2007; Kasprzyk-
pesticides
Animal
pharmacuticals
Pharmaceuticals and
personal care products
Industrial
compounds
Crops/pest
application
Animal manure
Soil zone
Domestic
waste water
Hospital waste
water
Industrial
waterwater
Landfill
Leachate Septic tanks
Sewage
system
Waste water
treatment
Surface waterGround water
Unsaturated
zone
Abstracted
groundwater
Private/unsaturated
Drinking water
treatment
ConsumerPublic supply
Leakages and
emergencies
Source Receptor
Removal
process
Minor pathway Pathway
Fig. 2 Potential sources and pathways of some emerging micropollutants to receptors and aquatic environment (Sources: Stuart et al. 2012)
Environ Chem Lett
123
Hordern et al. 2009; Rahman et al. 2009). Over the years, a
substantial number of personal care products and their
transformed products have been identified in wastewater
treatment plants. Some of these metabolites get converted
into harmless inorganic compounds such as carbon dioxide
and water within a wastewater treatment plants or are
partially adsorbed onto sedimentation sludge due to their
lipophilic nature and non-biodegradability or adhere to
other hydrophilic components (Jiang et al. 2013). Others
escape the wastewater treatment plants and are more per-
sistent in the environment either in their original or meta-
bolised form. Houtman (2010) reported that triclosan and
chloroprene accumulate in the bile from bream in the
Dutch River Dommel, Netherlands. Lastly, most endocrine
disrupting compounds, pharmaceuticals and personal care
products have been shown to disrupt endocr ine systems,
yet they are still unregulated and are carelessly discharged
into the immediate environment, especially in developing
countries where there is no stringent regulatory frame
work.
Sources and effects of chemicals of emerging
concern
Chemicals of emerging concern enter the environment via
multiple point and non-point sources such as pharmaceuti-
cal industries, mining activities, hospitals, and health ser-
vice centres, or agricultural practices (Agunbiade and
Moodley 2014). In metropolitan areas, chemicals of
emerging concern could also be introduced into the envi-
ronment through sewer overflows, run-off from farmland,
disposal of animal waste and septic tank effluents. Other
routes through which chemicals of emerging concern enter
the environment include household use and disposal of
personal care products, cleaning agents, prescribed, illicit
and unused drugs into septic tanks or sewerage systems as
well as defecation of partially metabolised drugs by humans
and animals (Swartz et al. 2006; Labadie et al. 2007 ;
Dougherty et al. 2010). Depending on their level of per-
sistency, most compounds pass unchanged through waste
water treatment plants and enter the terrestrial or aquatic
environment (Barnes et al. 2002; Pryor et al. 2002; Harrison
et al. 2006). Thousands of these compounds and their
metabolites have been detected in the aquatic environment
and the metabolites in most cases are even more toxic than
the original compounds (Daghrir and Drogui 2013).
Sometimes they exerted synergistic effects on the target
organisms. Thus, the aquatic environment is acting as a sink
and dumping ground for most contaminants. Published
research has supported the claim that current wastewater
treatment plants and untreated urban wastewa ter discharges
are not specifically designed for removal of these
compounds. This is because the molecular structure of these
compounds are complex. Another challenge is due to their
low concentration in water. Specifically, wastewater treat-
ment plant effluents are considered to be an important route
through which endocrine disrupting pharmaceuticals enter
the envi ronment. As a result of only partial elimination in
the treatment plants, most endocrine modulators and
residual pharmaceuticals are frequently encountered in the
solids and water environmental compartments at low con-
centrations (ng/L to lg/L). Table 1 and Fig. 2 summarises
the potential sources of chemicals of emerging concern in
the environment. Other sources of emerging contaminants
not included in Fig. 2 according to Heim and Schwarzbauer
(2013) include diagenetic activities in the sediments,
atmospheric deposition, and groundwater recharge. The
multitude of persistent micro pollutants present in the
aquatic environment have become a major source of neg-
ative impacts upon living organisms ranging from increased
feminisation of male, or masculinizing effects upon female
species, bacterial resistance to antibiotics, birth defects,
long-term toxicological effects, prostate cancer, thyroid and
other cancers (Marcoux et al. 2013). While the causes of
these health challenges are not clearly understood, there is
growing evidence that most detected micro pollutants might
play a crucial role and perhaps be responsible for the
occurrence of intersex fish, cancers and low sperm count in
species found in the aquatic environment (Shaw 2011).
Thus, there is need for globa l sensitisation regarding the
pathways and the health effects associated with exposure to
these xenobiotics and most environmental regulatory bodies
are trying to establish minimum discharge limits (Agunbi-
ade and Moodley 2014). The health effects associated with
exposure to the individual endocrine disrupting compounds
and pharmaceuticals, personal care products are described
in Table 2. The effects of exposure to endocrine modula-
tors, pharmaceuticals or personal cares may be temporary,
permanent or even transgenerational depending on the
exposure dose and time. While the health effects on aquatic
species have been widely reported, there are diverse opin-
ions regarding the direct impact of environmental endocrine
disrupting chemicals on human health. However, several
investigations have suggested that the negative health
effects of exposure of aquatic species to endocrine disrup-
tors may include low sperm count, reduced fertility and
reproductive malfunctions (Andersson et al. 2007; Bolong
et al. 2009). Whi le the health effects on huma n beings is still
a subject of debate and needs further investigation, low
sperm count, reduced fertility and reproductive malfunc-
tions is on the increase in humans these days. There is a
growing understanding that most detected micropollutants
might play a crucial role and perhaps be responsible for
these manifestations. However, the observed decrease in the
sperm count varies from region to region. As a result of
Environ Chem Lett
123
Table 1 Sources of different emerging micropollutants and important classes in the aquatic environment
Category Important classes Major sources (distinct) Major sources nonexclusive
Pharmaceuticals Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs (NSAIDs), lipid regulator,
anticonvulsants, antibiotics, b-
blockers and stimulants
Domestic wastewater (from excretion),
hospital effluents
Sources that are not exclusive to individual
categories includes: industrial wastewater
(from product manufacturing discharges)
landfill leachate (from improper disposal
of used, defective or expired items)
Personal care
products
Fragrances, disinfectants, UV filters,
and insect repellents (triclosan)
Domestic wastewater (from bathing,
shaving, spraying, swimming)
Steroid
hormones
Oestrogens Domestic wastewater (from excretion),
run-off from CAFOs and aquaculture
Surfactants Non-ionic surfactants Domestic wastewater (from bathing,
laundry, dishwashing and etc.),
industrial wastewater (from industrial
cleaning discharges)
Industrial
chemicals
Plasticisers, fire retardants
(bisphenol-A; phthalates
Domestic wastewater (from leaching
out of the material)
Pesticides Insecticides, pesticides and
fungicides
Domestic wastewater (from improper
cleaning, run-off from gardens, lawns
and roadways and etc., agricultural
runoff
CAFOS Concentrated animal feeding operations Sources (Luo et al. 2014)
Table 2 Effects of different endocrine disrupting compounds in the humans and aquatic species
Endocrine disrupting compounds Health effects due to exposure References
Bisphenol-A used in epoxy resin and polycarbonate
plastics (in food and drink packaging)
Proven to have oestrogenic effects in rats and hormonal
effects which increase breast cancer risk in human
reported to act as anti-androgen, which causes
feminising side-effects in men
Rogers et al. (2013)
Phthalates—used as plasticisers in plastic,
polyvinylchloride baby toys, flooring, pesticides
Exposure to high levels reported to cause miscarriage and
pregnancy complication
Staples et al. (1997),
Liang et al. (2008)
Disinfectants/antiseptics, i.e. triclosan—used in
toothpaste, hand soaps, acne cream)
Found in receiving waters, linked to toxic, biocidal effects
(killing helpful microorganisms) and bacterial resistance
development towards triclosan
Kookana et al. (2011)
Polychlorinated biphenyls—used in electrical equipment
(capacitors and transformers)
The metabolites mimic estradiol (female hormone), and
cause carcinogenic changes. Exposure was reported to
cause delayed brain development and IQ decrease in
children
Jacobson and Jacobson
(1997), Routledge
et al. (1998)
Estrone and 17-b estradiol (steroidal oestrogens) and
17-a ethynylestradiol (synthetic contraceptive)—
contained in contraceptive pills
Cause feminisation which observed for fish in sewage
treatment. The discharge causes mimicking oestrogen/
hormone effect to non-target
Witte (1998)
Antibiotics (such as penicillin, sulphonamides,
tetracyclines)
Shown to cause resistance among bacterial pathogens, that
lead to altered microbial community structure in nature
and affect higher food chain
Daughton and Ternes
(1999)
Fragrances (musk) Musk xylol—proved carcinogenic in a rodent bioassay and
significantly absorbed through human skin, Musk
ambrette may damage the nervous system
Bronaugh et al. (1998)
Preservatives, i.e., parabens (alkyl-hydroxybenzoate)—
used for anti-microbiological preservatives in
cosmetics, toiletries and even foods
Shows weak oestrogenic activity Routledge et al. (1998)
Disinfectants/antiseptics, i.e., triclosan—used in
toothpaste, hand soaps, acne cream)
Shown to cause toxic, biocidal effects and also cause
bacterial resistance development towards triclosan
Okumura and
Nishikawa (1996),
McMurry et al. (1998)
Sources (Adopted from Bolong et al. 2009)
Environ Chem Lett
123
different health challenges associated with exposure to
endocrine disruptors and other chemicals, WHO/UNEP
(2013) World Health Organization and United Nations
Environmental Programme in one of their studies jointly
called for prope r understandin g of the links between health
risks and the exposure dose or route for individual as well as
multiple endocrine disrupting compounds. For instance,
triclosan, bisphenol-A and phthalates are essential industrial
chemical components incorpor ated into multiple commer-
cial household products and as a result are widely detected
in different environmental matrices. Indeed, exposure to
triclosan has been linked to an increase in antibiotic resis-
tance and thyroid malfunction with increasing medical costs
globally. Thus, the occurrence and behaviour of endocrine
disrupting pharmaceutical compounds in the aquatic envi-
ronment remains a complicated issue (Zhou et al. 2012), as
pollutants infiltrate the aquatic environment through dif-
ferent sources and various pathways including: agricultural
run-off, household discharge, industrial, sewage and
municipal wastewater as shown in Fig. 2. Since wastewater
treatment plants are not designed for effective removal of
these xenobiotics, original compounds or metabolites have
been identified in water sources at nanogram per litre and
microgram per litre. However, the pathways by which most
pollutants penetrate from different sources to the human or
animal receptor remain unclear as this depends on the
physical and chemical properties of the micro-pollutants.
Daghrir and Drogui (2013) submitted that in view of the
increasing concentration and accumulation of emerging
persistent organic pollutants in the environment, potential
adverse effects on animals or perhaps humans would con-
tinue to rise unless adequate measures are taken. The
authors called for cautions in the usage of manufactured
products containing emerging chemicals and suggested
effective coordination strategi es among the different regu-
latory bodies to curb abuse or misuse of the manufactured
products by consumers.
Chemicals of emerging concern in the environment
It is well established that emerging micro pollutants with
endocrine disrupting and bio-magnification properties have
been identified in global water cycle including drinking
water (Aneck-Hahn et al. 2009; Petrie et al. 2015). This has
raised concerns regarding water quality considering the
current pollution status. The level of these xenobiotics in the
environment vary from country to country and mostly
depends on the levels of industrial activity, consumption
patterns, compliance with existing regulatory frameworks,
population growth rate, efficacy of wastewater treatment
plants’ performance, among others. This section focuses on
reviewing different case studies of emerging contaminants
that have been identified and quantified in different coun-
tries. Bu et al. (2013) detected over 100 pharmaceuticals and
personal care products at lg/L and ng/g level spread across
different strata of the natural and aquatic environment in
Eastern China. According to the screening level risk
assessment, six out of the several pollutants namely ery-
thromycin, roxithromycin, diclofenac, salicylic acid,
ibuprofen, and sulfamethoxazole were classified as priority
pollutants. Duong et al. (2014) reported the presence of
approximately 940 micro-organic pollutants in the sedi-
ments collected in rivers located in Vietnam, Japan using gas
chromatography—mass spectrometry technique. The
authors found that sediments collected from metropolitan
areas precisely Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were mostly
contaminated with high concentration of phthalates, sterols,
polyaromatic hydrocarbons, pyrethroids, and deltamethrin.
The presence of these pollutants was attributed to run-off of
petroleum products and vehicular emissions. Rodil et al.
(2012) demonstrated the occurrence of 53 different com-
pounds in wastewater, surface and drinking water collected
in the North West region of Spain. The solid-phase extrac-
tion procedure followed by liquid chromatography-electro-
spray-tandem mass spectrometry (LC–ESI–MS/MS) was
adopted for the extraction and quantific ation of the com-
pounds. Among the studied pollutants, salicylic acid,
ibuprofen, benzophenone-4 were identified as compounds
with concentration [1 lg/L. Lo
´
pez-Serna et al. (2013)
investigated the occurrence over 72 pharmaceuticals and 23
pharmaceuticals residue in selected groundwater in Barce-
lona, Spain. Solid-phase extraction followed by liquid
chromatography-electrospray ionisation-tandem mass
spectrometry was used to identify and quantify the con-
taminants. Antibiotics namely erythromycin, sulfadiazine,
sulfamethazole, tetracycline, tylosin, ciprofloxacin
remained predominant in 10 out of the 13 sampling sites
with a total concentration greater than 1000 ng/L. Kleywegt
et al. (2011) investigated the occurrence of 48 emerging
contaminants in untreated water source and finished drink-
ing water in Ontario, Canada, using solid-phase extraction
and liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy technique. It
was found that 27 of these contaminants were identified in
both the source water and the finished drinking water. Of all
the identified compounds, carbamazepine (749, 601 ng/L),
gemfibrozil (9, 4 ng/L), ibuprofen (79, 25 ng/L), bisphenol-
A (87, 99 ng/L), remained predominant in source and fin-
ished drinking water, while roxithromycin (155 ng/L) and
enrofloxacin (13 ng/L) were detected in the environmental
samples for the first time. Valca
´
rcel et al. (2011) investigated
the presence of 33 pharmaceutically active compounds in
the Rivers and tap water sample collected at different points
in Madrid, Spain. Out of the 33 compounds, 25 pharma-
ceuticals and metabolites were quantified in ten different
sampling points. Carbamazepine, caffeine, cotinine,
Environ Chem Lett
123
ifosfamide, venlafaxine were mostly detected at higher
concentrations in the surface water. According to the
authors, continuous exposure to these compounds portends
short- and long-term health risk. Jiang et al. (2014) utilised
solid-phase extraction followed by liquid chromatography
coupled with tandem mass spectrometry to detect and
quantify 31 different emerging contaminants in the coastal
waters of Taiwan. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, ketoprofen,
codeine, ampicillin, erythromycin, cephalexin, ketamine,
pseudoephedrine, caffeine, carbamazepine, and gemfibrozil
were detect ed in the median concentration range of
1.47–156 ng/L. Sorensen et al. (2015) detected N, N-Di-
ethyl-m-toluamide, triclosa n and trihalomethane at a con-
centration of 1.8, 0.3 and 50 lg/L, respectively, in the
groundwater sources in Kabwe, Zambia. The authors
attributed the presence of these contaminants to the absence
of well protection, poor sanitation and household disposal of
solid or liquid waste. Padhye et al. (2014a) investigated the
occurrence and removal of 30 representative emerging
micropollutants in an urban drinking water treatment plant
located in the South East United States. N, N-Diethyl-m-
toluamide and nonylphenol were mostly found in the water
while triclosan, bisphenol-A, ibuprofen, atrazine and caf-
feine were detected at low concentration. Th e average
concentration of the pharmaceuticals and endocrine dis-
ruptors in the studied water was 360 ng/L. Padhye and co-
workers established a correlation between the pharmaceu-
ticals and the endocrine disr upting chemicals in surface and
drinking water within the studied period. Similarly, Peng
et al. (2008) reported the occurrence of endocrine disrupting
chemicals in three urban streams and a major river at
Guangzhou, South China. The authors detected high con-
centration of nonylphenol, bisphenol-A, triclosan and
2-phenylphenol. Salicylic acid, clofibric and ibuprofen were
detected in most water samples with concentration of 2098,
248 and 1419 ng/L, respectively, and naproxen was not
highly prevalent. In the same vein, Jonkers et al. (2009)
studied the occurrence and behaviour of bisphenol-A,
phenylphenol and parabens in municipal wastewaters in the
river Glatt waters near Zurich. The authors recommended
continuous chemical monitoring of the water sources as a
means of determining the fates and behaviour of the studied
compounds. Kim et al. (2007) reported the presence of dif-
ferent classes of emerging contaminants in South Korea
surface and drinking waters. Specifically, hormones, phar-
maceuticals, flame retardants, antibiotics, and personal care
products were identified in wastewater and drinking water,
respectively. Hass et al. (2012) examined the presence of
primidone, phenobarbital, oxazepam, diazepam, meproba-
mate, pyrithyldione and phenylet hylmalonamide in effluents
from WWTPs, surface water, groundwater including final
drinking water, respectively. Primidone and phenylethyl-
malonamide were largely present ed in all the water samples
with concentrations of 0.87 and 0.42 lg/L, respectively,
while phenobarbital (0.96 lg/L), oxazepam (0.18 lg/L),
pyrithyldione (0.04 lg/L), meprobamate (0.50 lg/L) were
identified virtually in all the water samples apart from raw
and finished drinking water. On the other hand, diazepam
was not found in any of the water samples possibly due to its
complete withdrawer from German market. Besides, China,
Germany, USA, Canada, South Korea, Japan, emerging
contaminants have been found in developing country such as
South Africa. A study has established that aquatic species
such as fish and other amphibians were affected upon
exposure to 17b-estradiol (Burger and Moolman, 2006).
Slabbert et al. (2005) discovered that different surface
waters and effluents tested in the Gauteng Province pre-
sented high oestrogenic activity. Olujimi et al. (2010) sub-
mitted that South Africa waters contained high
concentration of oestrogens such as 17b
-estradiol. Similarly,
Barnhoorn et al. (2004) revealed high concentration of some
endocrine disruptors in fat tissue of catfish in South Africa.
These reports verify that endocrine disrupting compounds
are present in South African environments in different pro-
portions depending on the use and consumption patterns.
Burger and Moolman (2006) stated that the occurrence of
endocrine disrupting compounds in South African water
systems may have a long-term cumulative health impact on
its citizenry. In an attempt to better understand the pollution
status of emerging contaminants in South Africa water
sources, Burger and Moolman (2006) conducted a surveil-
lance study of these sites; Makhathini flats, Vaal River
Barage, Hartbeespoort and Rietvlei Dam in South Africa
where significant endocrine disrupt ors activity was estab-
lished. Fatoki et al. (2010) showed that the concentration of
phthalates such as dibutylphthalates in water samples ranged
between 0.16 and 10.17 mg/L in rivers and dams in the
Venda region. The latter value surpassed the 3 lg/l maxi-
mum recommended by the United States Environmental
Protection Agency (USEPA) for the survival of fish and
other aquatic species. Olujimi et al. (2012) investigated the
presence of eleven priority phenols and six phthalate est ers
in five selected wastewater treatment plants and freshwater
systems in Cape Town. The study established that certain
numbers of the wastewater treatment plant accounted for the
highest concentrations of dibutylphthalates compared to
other treatment plants. Phenol, 2-chlorophenol and PCP
were equally detected, though at low concentrations. Man-
ickum and John ( 2014) quantified the level of steroid hor-
mones such as 17-b-estradiol (E2), estrone (E1), estriol (E3),
synthetic oestrogen (17-b-ethinylestradiol (EE2), testos-
terone and progesterone in Pietermaritzburg wastewater
treatment plants, South Africa using the non-analytical
enzyme-linked immu nosorbent Assay (ELISA) technique.
The authors reported that close to 92 % of EDCs were
eliminated by activated wastewater treatment plants, while
Environ Chem Lett
123
the residual 8 % found their way into the environment. The
authors ascribed different levels of pollutants to seasonal
variation, different rainfall patterns, raw wastewater effluent
flow rates, and activated sludge performance capacity
among others. The authors recommended further treatment
of the water and promulgat ion of effective legislation with
respect to maximum allowable levels of these compounds in
water matrices. Similarly, the scoping studies conducted by
Patterton (2013) on the status of South African drinking
water sampled mostly from Johannesburg, Pretoria,
Bloemfontein, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town
and Port Elizabeth over a period of four season revealed the
presence of high concentration of pesticides such as atrazine,
terbuthylazine as well as pharmaceuticals (carbamazepine).
Other compounds such as hexazinone, phenytoin, and
tebuthiuron (Durban), telmisartan, simazine, oxadixyl,
metolachlor, amphetamine imidacloprid tebuthiuron (Jo-
hannesburg), and fluconazole, phenytoin and tebuthiuron
(Bloemfontein) were also quantified during the last three
season. Differences in concentrations were ascribed to sea-
sonal variation and dilution factors. The authors identified
agricultural run-off, medical waste and pesticides, leaching
of pharmaceuticals and pesticides into groundwater reser-
voirs as possible pathways through which the contaminants
enter the drinking water. The results also indicated that the
levels of the contaminants in drinking water were generally
below the concentrations that could trigger or raise serious
health issues (Fawell and Ong 2012). However, the annual or
daily exposure rate was not calculated. Osunmakinde et al.
(2013) categorised most pharmaceuticals identified in the
Daspoort WWTP, Pretoria, water environment into six cat-
egories such as hypertension, analgesics, antiretroviral,
antibiotics, vitamins and antidiabetic drugs. The results of
their investigations revealed the presence of ribavirin, pin-
dolol, famciclovir, carbamazepine, ketoprofen, fenoprofen
and ibuprofen in various concentrations in effluents from
WWTPs. Besides, the pharmaceuticals, bisphenol-A,
Estrone (E1), 17b-Estradiol (E2), Estriol (E3), 17a-
ethinylestradiol (17a-EE2) and ethinylestradiol were also
detected in the wastewater. The authors revealed that car-
bamazepine and bisphenol-A remained the most prescribed
drug and used industr ial chemical, respectively identified in
the investigated wastewater effluent. Currently the list of
persistent emerging organic pollutants in South Africa is still
growing owing to population growth, industrial activities
and absence of monitoring of standard regulatory and dis-
charge limits. Very recently, Agunbiade and Moodley
(2014) reported the presence of caffeine, nalidixic acid,
atenolol and acetaminophen predominantly at very high
concentrations in the estuary mouth and lagoon of the
Umgeni River water in KwaZulu-Natal. These studies show
that the South African water system is exposed and acts as a
sink for persistent environmental contaminants as well as
their transformation products . And since these rivers serve
for drinking purposes and for indirect re-use as potable wa-
ter, there are anticipated concerns that continuous con-
sumption of such water could lead to undesirable
toxicological health effects among citizens in the near
future, unless proactive measures are employed. Thus, these
compounds must be quantitatively eliminated within treat-
ment plants before ultimate discharge into rivers and lakes
used for drinking water purposes. Because the wastewater is
discharged into rivers or dams that are sources of drinking
water, it constitutes indirect pota ble reuse. Other case
studies involving chemicals of emerging concern detected in
different countries (South Africa inclusive) are indicated in
Table 3. A gap analysis of literature reviewed showed that
little information exists on the iden tification of intermediate
compounds which are considered more toxic than the parent
compounds and even less on the availability of treatment
technologies for the decomposition and eventual elimination
of these micropolluta nts from water. Equally, the eco-toxi-
city and chronic effect of the transformation products
evolved during treatment including their mode of action on
the target organisms have not been fully established.
According to Table 3, it is obvious that the concentrations of
chemicals of emerging concern in different environmental
samples contrasts from country to country, region to region,
which can be attributed to several factors such as population
figures, demands level, consumption habit, wastewater
treatment plants capacity and performance, agricultural
activities and water utilisation rate. A deeper understanding
of the toxicity and ecotoxicity with respect to the exposure
rate to endocrine disrupting compounds is indispensable to
predict possible risk patterns of micropollutant infiltration.
A follow-up publication to address these issues, ranging
from detection, treatment techniques involving advance
treatment process to toxicity will be presented subsequently
by the authors
Fate of chemicals of emerging concern
in the environment
The study of emerging micropollutant s has dominated the
public and scientific discussion in the last 15 years due to
their growing accumulation in the environment. The dis-
charge of pharmaceutically active compounds such as
pharmaceuticals, endocrine disrupting compounds, per-
sonal care products into the environment may perhaps
continue in the view of the growing human population
figures and demands for more manufactured products. The
continuous identification and detection of these compounds
in water sources particularly drinking water have raised
serious concerns regarding the fate and transport of these
contaminants among the water experts and consumers.
Environ Chem Lett
123
Table 3 Occurrence of chemicals of emerging concern in the environment showing the types of water, countries, compounds detected, analytical detection techniques and concentration range
Type of water Countries Compounds detected Analytical method of detection Concentration range (ng/L) References
Industrial
water in
Pretoria
South
Africa
p-nonylphenol, bisphenol-A, phthalate esters,
and others
Recombinant yeast cell bioassay and GC–MS
method were used
Oestrogenic activity was detected in all the samples
collected from these sites while phthalate esters
were detected at some of the other sites
Mahomed
et al.
(2008)
Mbokodweni
River water
South
Africa
Triclosan and ketoprofen Solid-phase extraction followed by high
performance liquid chromatography
Triclosan and ketoprofen were detected in all
wastewater (influent and effluent) samples at a
range of 1.2–9.0 lg/L and in some river water
samples
Madikizela
et al.
(2014)
River and
dam water
in Venda
South
Africa
dimethyl phthalate (DMP), diethyl phthalate
(DEP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), di-2-
ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP)
Liquid–liquid extraction, followed by column
chromatographic clean-up and capillary gas
chromatography coupled with FDI detector
were used
The levels of phthalate esters reported in this study
for the water in rivers and dams ranged from 0.16
to 10.17 mg/L and varied between 0.02 and
0.89 mg/kg in sediments for DBP and DEHP
respectively. The obtained values are higher than
the US Environmental Protection Agency
(USEPA) criterion of 3 lg/L for the protection of
fish and aquatic life in rivers
Fatoki et al.
(2010)
Wastewater
effluent
South
Korea
The following compounds were atenolol, iopromide,
(tris(chloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCPP), (tris(2-
chloroet hyl)phosp hate (TCEP), musk ketone,
naproxen, (N,N-diethyl-m eta-toluam ide), (DEET),
carbamazep ine, trimethoprim, sulfamethoxazo le,
and benzophenone
Liquid chromatography coupled with tandem
mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS) and
electrospray ionisation (ESI) and
atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation
(APCI) were used
The average concentrations of all the identified
compounds were in the range of 98–663 ng/L.
On the other hand, steroid hormones, atrazine
and octylphenol were not detected in any of the
samples
Ryu et al.
(2011)
Raw waters Spain Phenytoin, atenolol and hydrochlorothiazide,
sotalol and carbamazepine Epoxide were
frequently and most found in the finished
drinking water
Solid-phase extraction procedure followed by
ultra-performance liquid chromatography
(UPLC) system containing turbo Ion spray
source
The concentration of Phenytoin, atenolol and
hydrochlorothiazide was close to 10 ng/L
while sotalol and carbamazepine epoxide was
[2 ng/L. Above all, the removal rate of the
five compounds were above 95 %
Huerta-
Fontela
et al.
(2011)
Surface
waters
South
Korea
Iopromide, atenolol, tris(chloroisopropyl (TCPP),
(tris(2-chloroethyl)phosphate (TECP), musk
ketone, naproxen, (N,N-diethyl-meta-
toluamide), (DEET), carbamazepine, caffeine,
and benzophenone
Solid-phase extraction followed by liquid
chromatography with tandem mass
spectroscopy (MS/MS) containing
electrospray ionisation (ESI)
The average concentrations of the identified
pharmaceuticals and metabolites both in the
river and creek samples ranged between 56 and
1013 ng/L and 102 and 3745 ng/L respectively
Yoon et al.
(2010)
Groundwater USA Acetaminophen, caffeine, carbamazepine,
codeine, p-xanthine (a caffeine metabolites),
sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim
Solid-phase extraction followed by high
performance liquid chromatography
coupled with mass spectrometer
The concentrations of the pharmaceuticals in the
groundwater: acetaminophen (1.89 lg/L),
caffeine (0.29 lg/L), carbamazepine (0.42 lg/
L), codeine (0.214 lg/L), p-xanthine (0.12 lg/
L), sulfamethoxazole, (0.17 lg/L) and
trimethoprim (0.018 lg/L)
Fram and
Belitz
(2011)
Groundwater USA Sulfamethoxazole, perfluorooctane sulphonate,
phenytoin
Solid-phase extraction followed by high
performance liquid chromatography
coupled with mass spectrometer
Maximum concentration of sulfamethoxazole was
(113 ng/L) and phenytoin (66 ng/L) while
perfluorooctane was ((97 ng/L)
Schaider
et al.
(2014)
Environ Chem Lett
123
Table 3 continued
Type of water Countries Compounds detected Analytical method of detection Concentration range (ng/L) References
Natural and
drinking water
USA Sixteen chemicals of emerging concern
which belongs to antibiotics,
hormones, analgesics, stimulants,
antiepileptics, and X-ray contrast
media
Solid-phase extraction (SPE) of water samples,
followed by liquid chromatography coupled with
tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS)
Caffeine, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen were
predominately found in the water samples with
concentrations of 224, 77.2, and 70 ng/L,
respectively. Higher concentrations were obtained
during winter as compared to summer due to low
precipitation during winter months
Wang
et al.
(2011)
Rivers and dams
in Eastern Cape
South
Africa
Dimethyl phthalates (DMP), diethyl
(DEP), dibutyl phthalates (DBP) and
diethylhexyl phthalates (DEHP)
Solid-phase extraction followed by capillary GLC The results showed that the level of dimethyl
(DMP), diethyl (DEP), dibutyl (DBP) and
diethylhexyl (DEHP) were in the range of
0.03–2306 ± 9.4 lgL
-1
. Among the
investigated phthalates ester, DEHP remained the
most predominant in both the harbour and
freshwater samples, which raises concern for
aquatic species because the reported value for
rivers is greater than the USEPA water criteria of
3 lgL
-1
Fatoki and
Noma
(2002)
Wastewater
influent and
effluent from
Diepsloot,
Johannesburg
South
Africa
Naproxen, ibuprofen, and triclosan Polar organic chemical integrative sampler
followed by high performance liquid
chromatography (HPLC) system coupled with
ultraviolet (UV) and fluorescence (FLD)
detectors
The concentrations of the three pollutants in
wastewater influent ranged from 55.0 to 78.4 lg/L
in Goudkoppies and 52.3 to 127.7 lg/L in
Northern WWTPs. While in the treated effluent,
the concentration ranged from 10.7 to 13.5 lg/L
and 20.4 to 24.6 lg/L in Goudkoppies and
Northern WWTPs respectively. The
concentrations of the studied compounds in both
treatment plants did not exceed 127.7 lg/L
Amdany
et al.
(2014)
Jukskei River
catchment
South
Africa
Dimethyl phthalate (DMP), and
diethylhexyl phthalates (DEHP),
diethyl phthalate (DEP), dibutyl
phthalate (DBP)
Liquid–liquid extraction and soxhlet extraction The level of phthalates in unfiltered and filtered
water samples ranged from 0.04 (±0.00)
ng mL
-1
,(DMP),9.76(±0.1) ng mL
-1
(DEHP),
0.09 (±0.01) ng mL
-1
DMP, 4.38 (±0.06)
ng mL
-1
(DEHP) respectively. The concentration
of phthalates in sediment were 0.05 (0.00) (DMP)
and 4910 (0.36) ng/g (DEHP). The obtained
values were below water quality guideline of
United States Environmental Protection Agency
(USEPA)
Sibali
et al.
(2013)
Surface water China 15 different Phthalates Solid-phase extraction followed GC–MS analysis The concentration of 15 studied phthalates was
between 355.8 and 9226.5 ng/L, with the mean
value of 2943.1 ng/L. DBP and DEHP were
more prominent. The PAE concentrations
ranged from 52.5 to 4498.2 ng/L and 128.9 to
6570.9 ng/L
Liu et al.
(2013)
Environ Chem Lett
123
Table 3 continued
Type of water Countries Compounds detected Analytical method of
detection
Concentration range (ng/L) References
Wastewater
and
wastewater
sludge
USA Bisphenol-A Solid-phase extraction
followed by LC–MS/MS
BPA concentration in wastewater range from 0.07 to
1.68 lg/L while the wastewater sludge contain
0.104–0.312 lg/g
Mohapatra
et al.
(2011)
Surface and
underground
water
China Dimethyl phthalates (DMP), Diethylphthalates (DEP),
di-n-butyl phthalates (DBP), butyl benzyl
phthalates(BBP), diethylhexyl phthalates (DEHP),
DnOP
Solid-phase extraction
followed by gas
chromatography-mass
spectroscopy
The concentrations of six PAE compounds in groundwater
and surface water range from 6.7 to 33.8 ng/L, with an
average value of 0.9 and 11.1 ng/L, respectively. Di (2
ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and di-butyl phthalate
(DBP) were mostly detected
Huang
et al.
(2012)
Surface water,
drinking
water and
plasma
Malaysia Bisphenol-A Solid-phase extraction
followed by GC–MS
The concentration of bisphenol-A in tap water ranged from
3.5 to 59.8 ng/L with the highest concentration found in
tap water connected to PVC pipes and water filter
devices. The bottled mineral water had lower levels of
BPA (3.3 ± 2.6 ng/L). Only 17 % of the plasma samples
contained BPA with concentration ranges from 0.81 to
3.65 ng/mL
Santhi
et al.
(2012)
Waste, river
and sea water
China Triclosan Solid-phase extraction
followed with gas
chromatography–ion trap
mass spectrometry
The concentration of Triclosan in water sources were as
follows: Sea water: 16.2 ± 1.3., 99.3 ± 10.6.,
31.9 ± 2.1 ng/L, River water: 37.6 ± 3.8., 26.0 ± 1.9.,
31.6 ± 4.1 ng/L, Wastewater: 142.0 ± 16.5.,
170.2 ± 18.3., 22.5 ± 1.4 ng/L
Wu et al.
(2007)
Wastewater China Dimethyl phthalate (DMP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), di-
n-butyl phthalate (DBP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP),
bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and di-n-octyl
phthalate (DOP)
Liquid-phase extraction
followed by GC–MS
DEHP was found to be highest with a concentration of
16.86 ± 11.67 ng/mL followed by DBP, DOP, and DEP
with concentrations of 14.34 ± 7.03, 8.08 ± 3.48, and
8.07 ± 6.32 ng/mL respectively
Gao et al.
(2014)
Wastewater
and sewage
sludge
Greece Nonylphenol, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan and
bisphenol-A
SPE followed by GC–MS More than 60 % of the studied compounds both in liquid
and solid samples except for 4-n-NP were recovered.
While more than 35 and 65 % 4-n-NP were also
recovered in more than 35 % of wastewater and sludge
samples respectively
Gatidou
et al.
(2007)
Surface waters Portugal Bisphenol-A SPE extraction followed
by GC–MS
The analysed samples revealed a widespread
contamination of BPA especially in Ave, Cavado, Douro,
Ferro, Sousa and Vizela Rivers. Achieving 98.4 ng/L for
the highest concentration
Rocha
et al.
(2013)
Surface runoff,
untreated and
treated
wastewater
Austria Dimethyl phthalate (DMP), diethyl phthalate (DEP),
dibutyl phthalate (DBP), butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP),
bis(2-ethylbenzyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dioctyl
phthalate (DOP)
Ultrasonic extraction
followed by GC–MS
Of all the investigated phthalates, DEHP was found to be
most abundant with concentration range 3.4–34 lg/L and
0.083–6.6 lg/L in influent and effluent respectively
Clara et al.
(2010)
DMP dimethyl phthalate, DEP diethyl phthalate, DBP dibutyl phthalate, DEHP di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate, TCPP tris(chloroisopropyl)phosphate, TCEP tris (2-chloroethyl)phosphate, DEET
N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, DOP di-n-octyl phthalate, BBP butylbenzyl phthalate
Environ Chem Lett
123
Therefore, there is need for a better understanding of their
fate and ecotoxicological impacts on the environment after
the discharge and escapes from the urban wastewater into
the environment. The fate of these chemicals either in
water or soil depends on their physicochemical properties
such as partition coefficient (Kow), solubility index and
other environmental factors (temperature, pH, salinity
level, humus content) among others (Lapworth et al. 2012).
The possible fate of chemicals of emerging concern once
entering wastewater treatment plants include (1) conver-
sion into harmless inorganic compounds such as carbon
dioxide and water via biological, chemical or physico-
chemical transformation in the environment (2) partial
adsorption or ret ention upon the sediments or sludge due to
their lipophilic nature and non-biodegradability (3) adher-
ence to other hydrophilic components and eventual dis-
charge either as bulk or conjugate product into receiving
waters (Richardson and Ternes 2011; Richardson 2012).
Nevertheless, the reviewed literature noted that some
emerging chemical contaminants and their metabo lites that
escape the treatment plants remained more persistent in the
terrestrial and aquatic environment. A number of chal-
lenges are encountered in trying to understand the fate of
emerging contaminants in the aquatic environment.
According to Heim and Schwarzbauer (2013) aquatic
environment are of three different ecological order nam ely
water, sediment and suspended particulate matters. Most
contaminants that passed through the wastewater treatment
plants preferably hydrophobic pollutants are often accu-
mulated or trapped in the particulate matter. Thus the fates
of such compounds are tied to the sediment phases since
they can no longer undergo either photo or biodegradation.
The authors suggested the need to establish prior back-
ground concentration values of each lipophilic pollutants in
the sediment phase as this will guide in the prediction of
their environmental fate. On the other hand, diclofenac,
synthetic estradiol and nonylphenols are not persistent in
the aquatic environment s and are easily isolated from
aqueous solutions due to high octanol–water partition
coefficients (Kow) (Mohapatra et al. 2010). These com-
pounds easily undergo photodecomposition and biodegra-
dation at ambient condi tions and sometimes get absorbed
into solid sludge in the treatment plants. The photo and
biodegradations of emerging chemical contaminants within
the treatment plants or in the environment is limited by
their adsorption onto sludge or sediments. Their retention
and sorption onto sludge or suspended particular matter is a
functions of pollutants physico-chemical properties and the
soil structural properties. The degradation of these xeno-
biotics via photo-irradiation can be direct or indirect (free
radical concept) depending on seasonality, water levels,
intensity of ray of light among others (Mompelat et al.
2009). However, the mobility of emerging contaminants in
the environment as well as their retention onto sediments or
sludge is often based on n-octanol water distribution
coefficient (log Kow) (Mompelat et al. 2009). It is worthy
of note that while some pharmaceuticals such as fluoxetine,
diclofenac, triclosan, albuterol, diazepam, fenofibrate,
iodoarene are susceptible to photodegradation, phthalates,
tetracycline and others remain fixed in the environment.
These plasticisers undergo a series of transformation,
bioaccumulate and exposure to them produces endocrine
disruptions such as carcinogenic and teratogenic effects
(Padhye et al. 2014; Loos et al. 2010). For instance, acri-
dine, a photodecomposition products of carbamazepine has
been reported to be toxic, carcinogenic and highly muta-
genic (Mompelat et al. 2009). In addition, bisphenol-A
does not hydrolyse in water because of its chemical
structure and as such more than 50 % BPA get adsorbs or
binds onto sludge/sediments. However, it undergoes rapid
photo-degradation in wastewater treatment plants and
receiving water s. BPA is readily decomposed by bacteria
under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions. It is regarded
as a pseudo-persistent pollutant with a short half-life
between 2.5 and 4 days, though other conjugates or
residual by-products are associated with longer half-lives
of up to a month (Ike et al. 2000, 2006; Oehlmann et al.
2009). Even though, bisphenol-A or other know industrial
chemicals have shown to decompose in laboratory exper-
iments—their levels in the environment are constantly
being augmented by new discharges. This means in prac-
tice that no overall reduction can be achieved until the
source discharge is prevented. Apparently, triclosa n is one
of the most ubiquitous pollutants partly removed in the
wastewater treatment plants and have been detected in
virtually all environmental wastewater samples including
drinking water (Kantiani et al. 2008; Zhao et al. 2010). Due
to its hydrophobic behaviour, triclosan including triclo-
carban after leaving the water phase get adsorbs onto the
sediment and suspended particulate matters (Heim and
Schwarzbauer (2013). In the water phase precisely, tri-
closan can undergo photo or biodegra dation and transf orm
into toxic and persistent metabolites. Some of the triclosan
transformation products include chlorinated phenols,
methyl triclosan, dioxins (toxin), polychlorinated benzo-
dioxins, chloroform, and other chlorinated compounds at
high pH value (Wu et al. 2007
). In the same vein, triclosan
reacts with the chlorine in water forming a human car-
cinogenic product called chloroform. On the other hand,
the trapped or accumulated triclosan in the sediment or
suspended particulate matters can no longer undergo photo
or biodegradation and as a result the concentration begin to
build up. Since 1980, the concentration of triclosan and its
metabolites in the sediments namely limnic, fluvial, and
estuarine have increased owing to high-level usage of
products containing triclosan by consumers. Apart from
Environ Chem Lett
123
triclosan, the screening analysis conducted on the sedi-
ments indicated geometrical increases in the level of other
emerging contaminants in the sediments, thus raising
concern about the future safety of aquatic species (Heim
and Schwarzbauer 2013 ). Heim and Schwarzbauer (2013)
suggested continuous geochronological investigations of
aquatic environment as a viable approach to monitor and
possibly predicts the pollution status of the sediments.
Phthalates are another group of emerging contaminants that
readily decomposed within the treatme nt plants due to high
lipophilicity and low solubility, thus get adsorbed upon
particulate matter and subsequently discharged into the
environment in the form of sludge (Liang et al. 2008).
Thus, due to its hydrophobic behaviour, substantial amount
of phthalates origina ting from the urban runoff, drainage,
and domestic and industrial discharges also settles as
sludge in the environment. The decomposition depends on
the various environmental conditions. The fate and beha-
viour of the individual xenobiotic does not only depend on
its hydrophobic-hydrophilic properties but also on envi-
ronmental conditions such as water solubility, pH,
adsorption coefficient, redox condition, temperature and
bioaccumulation potential (Rahm an et al. 2009). This
observation has been widely reported and confirmed in
several studies and review articles (Barnabe
´
et al. 2008;
Liang et al. 2008; Staples et al. 1997). The quantity of
residual pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors in
aquatic environments are frequently influenced by factors
such as the amount of wastewater produced, consumption
pattern, geographical locations, lifestyle, appropriate
treatment techniques, regulations among others (Pal et al.
2010; Rogers et al. 2013). Petrie et al. (2015) recom-
mended adoption of integrated standardised analytical
approaches to accur ately predict and understand the envi-
ronmental fate of most emerging contaminants. Petrie et al.
(2015) argued that several emerging contaminants accu-
mulated in the sludge and the traditional analytical tech-
niques such as low-resolution mass spectrometry faile d to
detect either the original or the metabolites. According to
the authors, the integrated approach should be compli-
mented with appropriate biological assays.
Potential risk from exposure to chemicals
of emerging concern
There are concerns regarding the potential risk from
exposure to pharmaceutically active agents in the envi-
ronment (Fawell and Ong 2012). Depending on their fate
and behaviour in wastewater treatment plan ts and even in
drinking water treatment plants, the probability of human
exposure to these compounds is high. In order to conduct
a thorough risk assessment of emerging micropollutants
for humans, there is a need to assess the exposure rate and
the actual dose; this will assist in determining the asso-
ciated adverse health effects. Since the concentration of
these compounds in water is low, the acute toxicity may
be difficult to evaluate, but the precautionary principle
should be kept in mind b ecause of chronic and long-term
exposure. Given also that long-term exposure data are not
available, the ris k assessment might be technically hard to
calculate. Aquatic species have a greater risk of exposure
to individual agents or combinations of these compounds.
It has been established that feminisation of fish in fresh-
water systems is a result of exposure to certain endocrine
disruptors. Further research is needed to find whether this
exposure had a major impact on entire populations.
Strauch (2011) affirmed that the effects of exposure to
pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors irrespective of
their concentration in the water supply upon human tox-
icity are yet to be ascertained. However, research carried
out by Ternes et al. (2004); Topp et al. (2008) revealed
that oestrogenic compounds have a very high bioaccu-
mulation potential with consider able negative effects on
aquatic organisms. This environmental bioaccumul ation
aggravates abnormal hormonal control, as well as repro-
ductive impairments and causes persistent antibiotic
resistance. The acute and chronic toxicity experienced by
aquatic species such as fish upon exposure to these
compounds in the freshwater system is similar to that of
health effects caused by exposure to low concentration of
metallic elements (Sharpe and Irvine 2004; Xia et al.
2005). Studies conducted by Michael (2001) also revealed
that exposure of aquatic species to endocrine disruptors
causes low sperm count and reproductive malfunctions.
Safe (2000) also observed that exposure of aquatic
organisms to organochlorines cause feminisation of fishes
and gulls, and sexual abnormalities in alligators. However,
among the aquatic species, fish remain most susceptible to
the high dose of these chemical substances. Studies have
shown that exposure to diclofenac and 17a-ethinylestra-
diol in the aquatic environment induced structural defor-
mities of kidneys and intestines as well as gene alteration
which affected the body metabolic activities (Ku
¨
mmerer
2011). In humans, recent reports of increasing occurrences
of reproductive and developmental abnormalities in
infants and children, of temporal downward trends in
semen quality and testosterone levels as well as increased
rates of testicular and thyroid cancers (Stuart et al. 2012 ).
Among adult male populations has generated concern
regarding the potential risk of environmental endocrine
disrupting chemicals to men’s health. Safe (2000) attrib-
uted the declining sex ratios in Canada and the USA to
over exposure to endocrine modulators. The potential risk
associated with water consumption varies between com-
pounds and might depend on the concentration, exposure
Environ Chem Lett
123
time, volume, and metabolism rate. Currently, it is diffi-
cult to link human health effects to exposure to chemicals
of emerging concern due to the existence of background
natural diseases in the human body. It has been reported
that direct exposure to emerging contaminants in drinking
water portends no danger because the concentrations of
these com pounds are too low to cause serious health
effects (Stanford et al. 2010). According to Houtman
(2010) the effect of exposure to low dose of chemicals of
emerging concern in drinking water will begin to manifest
after 80 years. On the other hand, a series of abnormali-
ties have been observed in the case of aquatic species, for
instance, disruption of endocrine system of fish via
exposure to low dose of oestrogenic hormones leading to
severe adverse effects (Ku
¨
mmerer 2011). The exposure
rate is determined by comparing the exposure dose with
the toxicity-based benchmarks. These toxicity-based
benchmark standards vary and can be related to World
Health Organization tolerable daily intake as well other
standards (Fawell and Ong 2012; WHO 2011). Caldwell
et al. (2010) conducted a comprehensive risk assessment
of drinking water in the USA and found out that exposure
to oestrogenic hormones caused no adverse health effects
to the overall receptor (US population). Very recently,
Stanford et al. (2010) conducted a comparative survey on
the rate of exposure to oestrogenic activity and other
compounds present in US drinking water, food, beverages,
and air. The authors concluded that humans being are
only exposed to a small fragment of emerging contami-
nants via consumption of municipal drinking water and
there is no evidence of adverse effects on human health
due to exposure to US drinking water. Human being is
also exposed to these chemicals via consumption of fruits
or vegetables irrigated with polluted water. Fromme et al.
(2009) assessed the rate of exposure to perfluori nated
octanoic acid and oestrogenic hormone via consumption
of drinking water in Germany and the USA and found that
the daily exposure rate ranged between 0.7 and 2 %.
Thus, the level of individual or mixtures of pharmaceu-
tically active substances in drinking water was considered
too low to cause a considerable chronic or acute health
effects on humans (Bull et al. 2011). Claessens et al.
(2013) demonstrated the occurrence of blocker propra-
nolol in Belgian marine waters and its acute toxic effects
on the Phaeodactylum tricornutum. The authors observed
no instant risk of exposure to this compound by the P.
tricornutum. On the other hand, a potential chronic risk
was identified when exposed to these compounds in the
two Be lgian coastal harbours. This shows that environ-
mental conditions also played a role during the exposure
period. However, the extent and long-term effects of
exposure still require further studies.
Conclusion
It is has been established that endocrine disrupting chem-
icals are present in the globa l water cycle. There is
incontrovertible evidence that these compounds have a
detrimental effect upon aquatic species, and their ubiqui-
tous presence globally is causing serious harm to the
environment. This has generated considerable concern
among governmental and non-governmental organisations
with respect to human health. It is indisputable that these
compounds are toxic in the envi ronment and that it is only
a matter of time before the levels build up to a point where
many species die out and human toxicity will become
evident. The vast majority of people are not aware of the
health risks associated with continuous exposure or con-
sumption of some of these chemicals. Therefore, the pre-
cautionary principle is advisable because the long-term
potential for considerable harm to the environment is high
and health impacts cannot be ruled out. Chemicals of
emerging concern with higher health risks due to long-term
exposure should be banned. Likewise, citizens should be
cautioned or prevented from using products containing
these compounds since there is insufficient capacity for
continuous monitoring. Further, because most studies on
emerging contaminants remain scattered and even unco-
ordinated, an integrated, collaborative, multi-disciplinary
research approach involving different stakeholders in var-
ious fields is required in order to gather sufficient evidence
and garner the proofs needed to support efforts to prevent
continuous release of these chemic als into the environment.
Various ministries, departments, agencies with responsi-
bility for protecting the environment should be involved.
Seeing that many existing wastewater treatment plants
have failed to effectively treat wastewater or to remove
pollutants, development of improved low-cost physico-
chemical and advanced oxidation technologies should be
given priority. This will protect the health and safety of
citizens as well as the environment and offer some pro-
tection to aquatic species. In view of the increasing sci-
entific evidence regarding the number of xenoestrogens in
the environment, it is imperative to establish a screening
protocol and build endocrine disrupting compounds test
laboratories equipped with highly sophisticated and sensi-
tive analytical instruments to perform continuous moni-
toring. Humans and aquatic species are exposed to
numerous compounds on a daily basis depending on the
routes of exposure and dose. In order to conduct a thorough
health risk assessment especially for humans, the exposure
dose as well as the safe limit needs to be determined in
both acute and chronic exposure scenarios. Several factors
need to be taken into cognisance when applying the
benchmarks for these pollutants in drinking water as the
Environ Chem Lett
123
exposure rate and sensitivity among humans differ. In a
situation where there are more than one contaminant in the
drinking water, it might be practically impossible to predict
the health risk caused by each contaminant, as they may act
independently or in synergy even over shadow each other.
As a matter of fact, detailed studies regarding human health
risk do not exis t. This is due to the high cost of conducting
the risk assessment for emerging contaminants on humans
and lack of technical experts to practically identify and
quantify the detection limits. Further investigatio ns on the
risk assessment of individual or combinations of contami-
nants present in drinking water at low concentrations will
help to understand and then minimise the risk. The call for
epidemiological risk assessment should not be ignored as
this would give an improved understanding of the impacts
of the pollutants in human and wild life. A systemic
management appro ach to screening, detection and removal
of endocrine disruptors should be considered; this should
also include quantification of the fate of other persistent
pollutants emitted from water treatment plants. In order to
understand and predict the fate of micro-pollutants in the
environment, development of concise and precise models
for tracking micropollutants’ fate and decomposition rate
should be developed. Predictive tools could be created to
quantify the mass influx of contaminants into the aqueous
environment as this will assist in future formulation of
policies and overall risk assessment and containment.
There is a need for concerted efforts to protect our limited
available water resources and remaining aquatic species via
pollution control and implementation of a comprehensive
programme on water safety. However, pollution control
requires strong political will for the formulation, legisla-
tion, implementation and policing of the various environ-
mental laws. There is a need to create public awareness
among citizenry on the health risks associated with expo-
sure to chemicals of emerging concern
Acknowledgments The authors acknowledge National Research
Foundation (NRF) and Environmental and Nano Sciences Research
Group, Department of Chemistry, University of the Western Cape,
South Africa for financial support.
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