Preventive protection of water resources must have top priority

Current studies identify persistent and mobile substances that are relevant for drinking water. / Image: shutterstock

A research project on substances with high persistence and mobility in the environment once again shows that effective resource protection must have priority over subsequent treatment in waterworks. On behalf of the German Environment Agency UBA, with the participation of TZW: DVGW-Technologiezentrum Wasser (German Water Centre), it was possible to derive the drinking water relevance of anthropogenic chemicals on the basis of their substance properties and from the data submitted for substance registration.

Substances that meet the defined criteria of persistence in the environment, mobility in the water cycle and, if applicable, toxicity are referred to as PMT/vPvM substances. The criteria for this are used to classify chemicals under the EU REACH regulation. REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. The regulation standardises chemicals law throughout Europe and increases the level of knowledge about hazards and risks that can emanate from chemicals.

Despite the minimisation requirement for the discharge of chemicals that are relevant to raw water into surface waters and groundwater, it may occur that anthropogenic substances are detected in drinking water. Within the framework of the project, the researchers were able to identify substances relevant to drinking water. Thus, the hazard-based management under REACH can be further developed in the future. Existing monitoring data were evaluated with regard to the occurrence of PMT/vPvM substances in water resources. In addition, water samples were analysed for the presence of a large number of PMT/vPvM substances. The scope of the study included substances about whose occurrence in the environment little or nothing was known so far. The researchers paid special attention to the question of whether these substances can be removed during drinking water treatment. “It was demonstrated that the preventive protection of water resources must have priority. Once substances with PMT or vPvM properties are in the water used for drinking water production, their removal during water treatment is elaborate, expensive and in some cases not possible at all", says Dr Karsten Nödler, project manager at TZW.

With this project, TZW is making an important contribution to the comprehensive work at the German Environment Agency, which has now been made available to the public in several documents.

> Link to press release UBA 05.09.2023 
> Link to document "Protection of drinking water resources from PMT/vPvM substances"
> Link to Literature review
> Link to UBA list of 259 PMT/vPvM substances
> Link to document "PFAS only the tip of the iceberg" 

Some representatives of PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) fulfil the PMT/vPvM criteria. Currently, scientists at TZW are working with international partners in the EU project ZeroPM on how such PFAS and other PMT/vPvM substances can be removed in water treatment using efficient and sustainable methods.

> Link to ZeroPM website


Neuwald, I. J.; Hübner, D.; Wiegand, H. L.; Valkov, V.; Borchers, U.; Nödler, K.; Scheurer, M.; Hale, S. E.; Arp, H. P. H.; Zahn, D.: Occurrence, Distribution, and Environmental Behavior of Persistent, Mobile, and Toxic (PMT) and Very Persistent and Very Mobile (vPvM) Substances in the Sources of German Drinking Water. Environmental Science & Technology 56, 10857–10867 (2022)

Neuwald, I. J.; Hübner, D.; Wiegand, H. L.; Valkov, V.; Borchers, U.; Nödler, K.; Scheurer, M.; Hale, S. E.; Arp, H. P. H.; Zahn, D.: Ultra-Short-Chain PFASs in the Sources of German Drinking Water: Prevalent, Overlooked, Difficult to Remove, and Unregulated. Environmental Science & Technology 56, 6380-6390 (2022)
DOI: https://doi/10.1021/acs.est.1c07949