Wastewater treatment facilities act as a major source of contaminants of emerging concern (CEC) to surface waters, concentrating a range of contaminants from pharmaceuticals and personal care products to flame retardants and industrial chemicals. Not originally designed for the removal of these low level and diverse contaminants, treatment processes ineffectively remove many contaminants which are known to exhibit a range of sublethal toxic effects to aquatic organisms as well as humans. Contributing 10+ million gallons daily to Great Bay estuary, it is essential to understand wastewater treatment facilities as CEC sources and to target these systems to reduce CEC loads to the estuary. We seek to address three fundamental knowledge gaps in our understanding of wastewater treatment facilities as CEC sources:
- The role of treatment facility design on effluent CEC loadings
- The role microbes play in CEC transformation during secondary treatment
- Tools to promote CEC degradation during treatment that are not prohibitively expensive.
To address these knowledge gaps, our proposed research combines field sampling of six wastewater treatment facilities and select surface water locations for a suite of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) and perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) with laboratory-scale experiments designed to understand and improve their transformation and mineralization through the promotion of specific microbial reactions and disinfection reactions. Combining state-of-the-art microbial and chemical analysis tools, this research will provide essential information on CEC loadings from treated wastewater to regional surface waters and assess specific strategies to reduce CECs in WWTF effluent tailored to existing infrastructure. In addition to the broader scientific community, we have identified wastewater treatment operators, the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership, and New Hampshire state agencies managing environmental and water quality as specific end users for our research. Ultimately, we aim to inform the New Hampshire Sea Grant mission to "promote responsible stewardship on New Hampshire's ocean, coastal, and estuarine resources" and ensure "coastal waters are safe and clean for recreation and locally harvested seafood" by identifying sources and strategies to reduce CEC loadings to the Great Bay estuary.