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, these are chemical substances that 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 (such as x, y, z ...) so as 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 waste water, to evaluate the effectiveness of the elimination of current treatment systems.
A change in the cultural and perspective approach to water issues related to human health is ongoing: the adoption of the Ministerial Decree of 14 June 2017 implies a variation from the monitoring based on the retrospective control of a limited number of parameters 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 so as 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 and adopted in Italy by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (National Health Institute) which provide for an assessment of site-specific risk and a subsequent continuous monitoring based on this assessment.
The pioneering experience already carried out by the Managing Authorities in various Italian hydro-drinking water systems confirms the effectiveness of this approach, also in emergency and post-emergency management in specific territorial conditions of water pollution attributable to previous releases that also continued over time, in industrial sites.
Mérieux NutriSciences offers analytical methods for the determination of numerous pollutants, both “classic” and emerging, in wastewater and in water for human use.
Mérieux NutriSciences offers the producers of water treatment plants/devices non-targeted screenings to verify the effectiveness of purification through innovative techniques of extraction and High Resolution Mass Spectrometry. All this is also destined to Managing Authorities to support them in the new approach to water monitoring, with targeted and non-targeted screenings to test the presence of expected emerging pollutants and their degradation products that could have negative effects on the environment and human health.