Our series of Open Access Ambassador Spotlight Blogs continues!

Our OA Ambassadors raise awareness in their local communities about global OA movements as well as related opportunities through IWA Publishing. They are representatives of both the International Water Association and IWA Publishing and our joint goals to empower the next generation of water leaders and to shape the future of the water sector. These blog posts highlight their specialty and research focus, as well as emphasising the importance of Open Access publishing. 

Kator Jethro Ifyalem is a civil engineer and MSc student from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, committed to environmental sustainability. Connect with Kator on LinkedIn!

Access to clean and safe drinking water is a fundamental human right, yet a significant portion of the global population still lacks this essential resource. In Africa, the issue of water quality is of paramount concern, as many regions face challenges related to pollution and contamination. Emerging contaminants in water have become a pressing issue, as they pose potential risks to human health and the environment.

Emerging contaminants refer to a diverse group of substances that were not previously recognised as pollutants, or for which environmental and health concerns have recently arisen. These contaminants include pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and more. The presence of emerging contaminants in water bodies is attributed to urbanisation, industrialisation, and agricultural activities. These pollutants can enter water sources through a variety of pathways, including wastewater discharge, runoff, and leaching from landfills.

Occurrence of Emerging Contaminants

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs): Pharmaceuticals and personal care products, such as antibiotics, hormones, and cosmetics, are commonly found in African waters. Improper disposal of unused medications and inadequate wastewater treatment facilities contribute to the presence of PPCPs in rivers and lakes.

Pesticides: Agriculture is a critical sector in many African economies, and the use of pesticides is widespread. Residues from pesticides like organochlorines and organophosphates often contaminate surface waters and groundwater. These chemicals can have adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems and human health.

Industrial Chemicals: The rapid industrialisation in some African countries has led to the release of various industrial chemicals into water bodies. These chemicals can include heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and persistent organic pollutants, which can have long-lasting effects on water quality.

Microplastics: The ubiquitous use of plastic products in daily life has resulted in microplastics contaminating African waters. These tiny plastic particles can absorb and transport other contaminants, making them a concern for both ecological and human health.

Analysing Emerging Contaminants

The analysis of emerging contaminants in water is a multidisciplinary effort that involves scientists, researchers, and environmental agencies. Several methods are employed to detect and quantify these pollutants:

Sampling and Sample Preparation: To analyse emerging contaminants in water, researchers collect water samples from various sources, including rivers, lakes, and groundwater. These samples are then subjected to a series of preparation steps to extract the target contaminants.

Analytical Techniques: Various analytical techniques are used for the detection and quantification of emerging contaminants. High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) are commonly used methods to identify and measure these pollutants.

Monitoring Programs: Developing comprehensive monitoring programs is essential for tracking the presence and trends of emerging contaminants. These programs involve regular sampling and analysis of water sources to assess the extent of contamination and any potential health risks.

Addressing the Challenges

The occurrence of emerging contaminants in waters poses significant challenges:

  1. Inadequate Infrastructure: Many African countries face challenges in building and maintaining wastewater treatment facilities, leading to inadequate treatment of sewage and industrial effluents.
  2. Limited Resources: The lack of financial and technical resources hampers the ability to address emerging contaminants effectively.
  3. Lack of Data: Inadequate data on the presence and distribution of emerging contaminants makes it challenging to assess the extent of the problem and its potential impact on human health and ecosystems.

The presence of emerging contaminants in African waters is a growing concern, with potential risks to both human health and the environment. Addressing this issue requires concerted efforts from governments, environmental agencies, researchers, and communities. Adequate investment in water treatment infrastructure, research, and data collection is essential to ensure access to clean and safe drinking water for all in Africa. By recognizing the challenges and working collaboratively, we can mitigate the impact of these contaminants and safeguard the precious water resources of the continent.

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