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Emerging Pollutants

Origin, Structure and Properties


Francisco G. Calvo-Flores, Joaquín Isac-García, and
José A. Dobado






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All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy.

This early observation concerning the toxicity of chemicals was made by Paracelsus (1493–1541) and it serves as a good starting point for the discussion on micropollutants.


610Pdi-(n-hexyl, n-octyl, n-decyl) phthalate
ABSacrylonitrile butadiene styrene
ACRacute to chronic ratio
ADIacceptable daily intake
AEOalcohol ethoxylate
AOPadvanced oxidation process
APEOalkylphenol ethoxylate
APIactive pharmaceutical ingredient
ATSamphetamine-type substance
AVacute (toxicity) value
AWQCambient water quality criteria
BBPbutyl benzyl phthalate
BDEbrominated diphenylether
BFRbrominated flame retardant
BHAbutylated hydroxyanisole
BHTbutylated hydroxytoluene
BODbiochemical oxygen demand
BOPbutyl 2-ethylhexyl phthalate
BPAbisphenol A
BPFbisphenol F
BWbody weight
CCCcriterion continuous concentration
CDCcenter of disease control and prevention
CECcontaminants of emerging concern
CIchemical ionization
CMCcriterion maximum concentration
CNTcarbon nanotube
CODchemical oxygen demand
CVchronic (toxicity) value
CWAClean Water Act
D711Pdi-(heptyl, nonyl, undecyl) phthalate
DAPdiallyl phthalate
DBDPEdecabromodiphenyl ethane
DBPdisinfection by-product
DEHPdi-2-ethylhexyl phthalate
DEPdiethyl phthalate
DHPdi-iso-hexyl phthalate
DIBPdi-iso-butyl phthalate
DIDPdi-iso-decyl phthalate
DINPdi-iso-nonyl phthalate
DIOPdi-iso-octyl phthalate
DLLMEdispersive liquid-liquid microextraction
DMPdimethyl phthalate
DnBPdi-n-butyl phthalate
DnHPdi-n-hexyl phthalate
DnOPdi-n-octyl phthalate
DOCdissolved organic carbon
DPPdi-n-propyl phthalate
DTDPditridecyl phthalate
DUPdiundecyl phthalate
DWELdrinking-water equivalent level
DWTdrinking-water treatment
DWTPdrinking-water treatment plant
ECHAEuropean Chemicals Agency
EDAeffect-directed analysis
EDCendocrine disrupting chemical
EDSSenvironmental decision support system
EDTAethylenediaminetetraacetic acid
EFSAEuropean Food Safety Authority
ELISAenzyme linked immuno sorbent assay
ELSearly life-stage (toxicity test)
ENMengineered nanomaterial
EPemerging pollutant
EPAEnvironmental Protection Agency
ESIelectrospray ionization
EUEuropean Union
FACRfinal acute to chronic ratio
FAOfood and agriculture organization of the United Nations
FAVfinal acute value
FDAfood and drugs administration
GACgranular activated carbon
GC-MS/MStandem gas chromatography-mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry
GC/MSgas chromatography/mass spectrometry
GCgas chromatography
GMAVgenus mean acute value
GMCVgenus mean chronic value
HAAhaloacetic acid
HBRChawke's bay regional council
HLBhydrophilic-lipophilic balance
HPGhypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (axis)
HPLChigh-performance liquid chromatography
HPThypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (axis)
HRMShigh-resolution mass spectrometry
HTLChigh-temperature liquid chromatography
IDillicit drug
IUPACInternational Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
JECFAjoint FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives
LASlinear alkylbenzene sulfonate
LAUlarge animal unit
LC-MS/MStandem liquid chromatography mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry
LC/MSliquid chromatography/mass spectrometry
LCliquid chromatography
LITlinear ion trap
LLEliquid–liquid extraction
LOAELlowest-observed-adverse-effect level
LODlimits of detection
LOEClowest observed effect concentration
LOQlimits of quantification
MAEmicrowave-assisted extraction
MARmanaged aquifer recharge
MAVminimum acceptable value
MDRminimum data requirement
MfEministry for the environment
MIW SIGmicropollutants in water special interest group
MOAmode of action
MOEmargin of exposure
MSmass spectrometry
MS/MStandem mass spectrometry
MSPDmatrix solid-phase dispersion
MTBEmethyl tert-butyl ether
MTDminimum therapeutic dose
NDnot detected
NERnon-extractable residue
NMRnuclear magnetic resonance
NOAELno-observed-adverse-effect level
NOECno-observed-effect concentration
NOMnatural organic matter (present in mg L−1 level)
NPEOnonylphenol ethoxylate
NPE1nonylphenol monoethoxylate
NPE2nonylphenol diethoxylate
NSAIDnon-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
OECDorganization for economic development and cooperation
OPEoctylphenol ethoxylate
OPPTOffice for Pollution Prevention and Toxics
PAHpolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon
PBBpolybrominated biphenyl
PBDEpolybrominated diphenyl ether
PBTpersistent, bioaccumulative and toxic
PCBpolychlorinated biphenyl
PCPpersonal care product
PEGpolyethylene glycol
PETpolyethylene terephthalate
PFASperfluorinated alkyl substance
PFCperfluorinated compound
PFCAperfluorocarboxylic acid
PFOAperfluorooctanoic acid
PFOSperfluorooctane sulfonate
PFRphosphorus flame retardants
PFSAperfluorosulfonate acid
PMparticulate matter
PNECpredicted no effect concentration
PoDpoint of departure
POPpersistent organic pollutant
PPGpolypropylene glycol
PUBpublic utilities board (Singapore)
PVCpolyvinyl chloride
REACHregistration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances
RMAresource management act
ROreverse osmosis
SAICMstrategic approach to international chemicals management
SBEsewage-based epidemiology
SDMEsingle-drop microextraction
SDWASafe Drinking Water Act
SETAC-AUAustralasian society for ecotoxicology
SFsand filtration
SIMselected ion monitoring
SMAVspecies mean acute value
SOAsecondary organic aerosol
SPEsolid-phase extraction
SPMEsolid-phase microextraction
STPsewage treatment plant
SWCNTsingle-walled carbon nanotube
TBBPA3,3′ ,5,5′-tetrabromobisphenol A
TBEPtris(2-butoxyethyl) phosphate
TCEPtris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate
TCPPtris(chloropropyl) phosphate
TDItolerable daily intake
TEFtoxic equivalency factor
TEPtriethyl phosphate
TLCthin-layer chromatography
TPtransformation product
UNEPUnited Nations Environment Programme
UPLCultraperformance liquid chromatography
U.S.United States
USEPAUnited States Environmental Protection Agency
USGSU.S. Geological Survey
VOCvolatile organic compound
WHOWorld Health Organization
WQCwater quality criteria
WSHwater, sanitation, hygiene and health unit (WHO)
WWwet weight
WWTPwastewater treatment plant


aerosolcolloid of fine particles of solid or liquid droplets suspended in a gas.
alkaloidgroup of naturally occurring chemical compounds nitrogen-containing bases. Many of them produce physiological effects on humans and other animals.
antibioticsmedications that fight bacterial infections, inhibiting or stopping bacterial growth.
antimicrobialsbiochemicals that kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms including bacteria and fungi.
biochemical oxygen demanda measurement of the amount of dissolved oxygen using aerobic microorganisms.
biocidechemical substance or microorganism intended to destroy, deter, and render harmless, or exert a controlling effect on any harmful organism by chemical or biological means.
biodegradationtransformation of materials or molecules by bacteria, fungi, or other biological means.
biofiltrationfiltration technique using a bioreactor containing living material to remove pollutants by biological degradation.
biomarkeris a measurable indicator of some biological state or condition. The term is also occasionally used to refer to a substance the presence of which indicates the existence of a living organism. They can be related to exposure or to toxic effects of environmental chemicals.
bioreactorany manufactured or engineered device or system that contains living organisms such as bacteria or yeast.
biosolidorganic wastewater solids recovered from a sewage treatment that can be reused after suitable sewage sludge treatment.
contaminantany physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter with an adverse effect on air, water, and soil.
corrosionchemical reaction between refined metals and the surrounding environment, which converts them into a more chemically stable form, such as oxides, hydroxides, or sulfides and leads to their deterioration.
depressant drugchemical compound that lowers neurotransmission levels, which is to depress or reduce arousal or stimulation in the brain.
detergent metaboliteschemical compounds formed when detergents are broken down by wastewater treatment or environmental degradation.
diffuse pollutionpollution that may be produced from widespread activities with no single discrete source.
disinfectantsa chemical agent used on non-living surfaces to destroy, neutralize, or inhibit the growth of disease-causing microorganisms.
disinfection by-productschemical substances resulting from the interaction of organic matter in water with disinfection agents such as chlorine.
ecotoxicityability of a chemical or physical agent to affect ecosystems.
effluentwastewater, treated or untreated, that flows out of a treatment plant, sewer, or industrial point source, such as a pipe. Generally refers to wastes discharged into surface waters.
endocrine disruptormolecule that interferes with the endocrine system of living organisms and produces adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects.
ergotismthe effect of long-term ergot poisoning, traditionally due to the ingestion of the ergot alkaloids produced by the Claviceps purpurea fungus that infects rye and other cereals.
estrogenic compoundsnatural or synthetic chemicals that can elicit an estrogenic response.
eutrophicationnutrient enrichment in bodies of water.
flame retardantchemical added to several manufactured materials, which is able to inhibit or delay the spread of fire by suppressing the reactions produced in the flame or by forming a protective layer on the surface of the treated material.
fragranceschemical substances that impart a sweet or pleasant odor.
global distillationmechanism for transportation of persistent organic pollutants from warmer to colder regions by successive evaporation–deposition processes.
hepatotoxicitydamage of the liver parenchyma.
immisioneffect of pollutants. The term “immission” means to send in. It denotes the external impact on something.
InChIKeythe IUPAC International Chemical Identifier is a unique text code assigned to a chemical substance, designed to facilitate searches in dabatases and the web.
insect repellentschemical substances applied to skin or other surfaces to discourage insects from coming into contact with the surface.
LD50dose of a substance, in mg kg−1, with a lethal effect on half the test animals to whom it is fed.
liquid–liquid extractionseparation process based on the different distribution of the components of a mixture between two immiscible liquid phases.
manureorganic matter, principally derived from excrement of animals except in the case of green manure. They are used as organic fertilizer in agriculture.
metabolitesproducts and intermediates of metabolism, produced when the body breaks drugs down. Traces of drugs consumed will end up in the sewer network either unchanged or as a mixture of metabolites. The term metabolite is usually restricted to small molecules.
microfiltrationmembrane filtration process that uses membranes with pore sizes from 0.1–10 micrometers.
muskterm derived from the Sanskrit word “muska-s,” which means “testicle,” and refers to the fragrant of the apocrine glands of the male musk deer (Moschus moschiferus).
nanofiltrationmembrane filtration process that uses membranes with pore sizes from 1–10 nanometers.
nanomaterialmaterials where a single unit is sized in one, two, or three dimensions from 1–1,000 nanometers.
nanotechnologystudy and application of extremely small size materials applicable in fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics, medicine, materials science, and engineering.
no observed effect concentrationthe highest tested concentration of an effluent or a toxicant at which no adverse effects are observed on the aquatic test organisms at a specific time of observation.
nonylphenolsare classified within the organic compounds called alkylphenols. They are used in manufacturing surfactants, detergents, emulsifiers, solubilizers, pesticides, antioxidants, and lubricating oil additives.
organophosphorous compoundorganic molecule containing phosphorous.
persistent organic compoundcompound resistant to environmental degradation that adversely affects human health and the environment, and can accumulate and pass from species through the food chain.
pesticidegeneric term for all plant-protection chemicals and biocides.
populationall individuals of a type within a specific area, which can be crossed among each other and therefore have a common genetic complement.
pharmaceuticalschemical substances used in the prevention or treatment of physiological conditions.
plasticizerchemical additives that increase the plasticity or fluidity of a material.
pollutantany substance or energy introduced into the environment that produces undesired toxic effects.
poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)a large group of chemical substances usually found in the environment as a result of incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials such as fossil fuels, wood, and garbage.
priority pollutantregulate chemical pollutant.
reproductive hormonesa group of chemical substances, usually steroids, whose purpose is to stimulate certain reproductive functions.
semipermeable membranebiological or synthetic membrane that allows certain molecules or ions to pass through it by diffusion.
size exclusion chromatographya mixture of molecules in solution are separated by their size, and in some cases molecular weight through a gel.
solid-phase extractionsample preparation procedure in which analytes are dissolved or suspended in a liquid phase and separated from other compounds using solid supports, usually contained in a cartridge-type device.
solventschemical solutions, other than water, capable of dissolving another substance.
steroidsa large group of fat-soluble organic compounds with a characteristic molecular structure, which includes many natural and synthetic hormones.
stimulant drugssubstances that temporarily increase alertness and energy in living organisms.
surfactantchemical substance that lowers the surface tension between two liquids or between a liquid and a solid.
sweetenernatural or synthetic compounds that taste sweet.
teratogenictriggering deformities.
toxinis a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms; synthetic toxic substances created by artificial processes are thus excluded.
ultrafiltrationfiltration through a semipermeable membrane forced by pressure or concentration gradients.
volatile organic compoundorganic molecule with a high vapor pressure and a great tendency to evaporate.
xenobioticsartificially manufactured substances, foreign matter in the biosphere.


The so-called contaminants of emerging concern, CECs, are defined as a group of substances, mostly organic compounds, that have been detected in water, soil, and air in very small concentrations, but are not yet subjected to restrictions of any kind. Despite the lack of any current regulation, special concerns have grown around them because of their potential effects on ecosystems and living organisms upon long-term exposition. Most of these compounds have been undetectable with conventional analytic tests for many years, but the development of more sensitive procedures has helped identifying them in water bodies, soils, and even fluids and tissues of vegetables and animals. Many of them remain in the environment after conventional waste treatment, as it happens in waste urban waters. Their chemical structure is of diverse origin, in many cases being related to common human activities such as personal hygiene, agriculture, livestock, and use of medical and pharmaceutical products, household or industrial goods, among others.

Terms such as constituents of CECs, microconstituents, trace organic pollutants, and other similar terminologies are often used in the literature for these classes of chemicals, which are here to stay and require proper attention. Our aim with this book is to describe the main families of such compounds, their characteristics, origin, fate, and detection methods and the state of the art related to emerging pollutants.

Granada, April 2017

J. Isac-García

F.G. Calvo-Flores

J.A. Dobado


Finally, we would like to give our special thanks to Dr Francisco J. Martín Martínez for his revision of part of this work, to Mr David Nesbitt for his invaluable work on the revision of the English version of the manuscript, and to Mrs Laura Bustos-Sánchez for creating the front cover photo.