Water is a fundamental element for the life of organisms and for all human activities. Current legislation specifies the chemical, physical and biological characteristics to abide by according to the final purpose of water. Water analysis ensures that the quality of surface, underground and wastewater is in full compliance with global standards.
Water: different kind of sources and use
The main categories are:
- For human consumption: potable and mineral water, water in public bathing areas and spas, for agricultural uses (such as irrigation of crops), and water used in industrial processes or urban and industrial effluents.
- Surface water: streams, rivers, lakes, swamps, seawater and water treated for public supplies, bathing, fish farming or irrigation.
- Ground water: it flows below earth surface, in soil or rock formations, among the pores of the sedimentary particles and the cracks of compact rocks.
- Wastewater: coming from industrial and domestic effluents (houses, municipal drains, craft activities, etc.), agricultural and zootechnical effluents.
Water: focus for each category
Emerging pollutants in water
According to the data from the World Health Organization (WHO), water pollution is the most important environmental aspect for human health, even before air pollution or climate change. While at world level, the risk is definitely linked to microbiological contamination, in industrialized countries, this factor is relatively low and it is overcome by chemical contamination, especially for long-term effects.
In addition to contaminants with high persistence in water, new substances increase the concern about possible health and environmental effects: contaminants of emerging concern are currently considered one of the most significant environmental problems. These include perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), cyanobacteria, mycotoxins, drugs, hormones, psychoactive substances, pesticides, cosmetics, industrial additives.
These substances may potentially cause adverse effects on the environment and human health, but they are still not specifically regulated by legislation and their effects are unclear. Some of them are classified as endocrine disruptors: according to the WHO, such substances alter the normal functions of the hormonal system of living organisms and can have harmful effects on health rightly for this reason.
At local level, pollution could concern different types of substances and also by-products or reaction products to require an aggregate and cumulative risk assessment taking into account the multiplicity of exposures. Investigations in water systems mainly involve the Managing Authorities of the aqueducts, in particular as for water intended for drinking purposes and wastewater, to evaluate the effectiveness of the elimination of current treatment systems.
The monitoring based on the retrospective control of a limited number of parameters is now shifting to a preventive assessment of the risk associated with each area, with its own peculiarities and specific problems. This choice does not aim at retrospectively chasing the problems of water pollution, but at learning the characteristics of the various drinking water supply chains better to prevent any episodes of contamination. In the event of need, this allows to focus the attention even on emerging pollutants –that are not always subject to regulatory and ordinary control– whose effects should be monitored in the medium and long term.
This strategy becomes true through the adoption of the Water Safety Plans, formally requested by the WHO. The pioneering experience already carried out by the Managing Authorities in various hydro-drinking water systems confirms the effectiveness of this approach, also in emergency and post-emergency management.