New Group of Water Contaminants Poses Risk to Humans and the Environment

A group of emerging water contaminants that include industrial chemicals, wastewater byproducts and human viruses threaten the safety of drinking water supplies and are the focus of a series of papers published in a special issue of Environmental Engineering Science (September/October 2003, Volume 20, Number 5). Environmental Engineering Science (EES) is a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. ( The issue is available free online at

To provide a comprehensive review of the sources, behavior and treatment of eight different emerging contaminants of water, guest editors, professors Lisa Alvarez-Cohen and David L. Sedlak, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, asked leading researchers to describe why these new water contaminants have emerged and what can be done about them. The reports explore new, more sensitive analytical techniques for detecting and measuring contaminants in water, modern industrial products that are contributing to the problem, how the contaminants spread through the water system and possible treatment strategies.

"As the state-of-the-art in engineering and science progresses we have the potential to both form and detect new contaminants in water," says journal Editor Domenico Grasso, Ph.D., Rosemary Bradford Hewlett professor and director of the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. "There may be significant public health implications associated with emerging contaminants. This special edition of EES brings together an internationally recognized group of experts to address the newest contaminants in eight different classes of compounds. It is important for regulatory agencies, industry, and practicing engineers to understand the sources, analytical methods, treatment options and fate and transport of these new and potentially harmful contaminants."

The emerging water contaminants discussed in this special issue include N-nitrosodimethylamine and perchlorate, both used in the manufacturing of rocket fuel, 1,4-dioxane, methyl tert butyl ether and other fuel oxygenates. Two families of chemicals that have been detected in the wastewater of municipal water supplies include endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which mimic natural hormones, and alkylphenol polyethoxylates, which are breakdown byproducts of a variety of household and industrial detergents. Another group of emerging contaminants includes fluorinated alkyl surfactants. Human calciviruses, which are commonly found in the environment, are now being blamed as the cause of recent outbreaks of gastroenteritis on cruise ships.

Environmental Engineering Science is an authoritative, peer-reviewed journal published bimonthly in print and online that explores the development and application of fundamental principles aimed at solving environmental problems involving land, air and water media.

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

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