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Do contaminants originating from state-of-the-art treated wastewater impact the ecological quality of surface waters?

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Publication Date
Keywords
  • Ddc:570
Disciplines
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Law

Abstract

Since the 1980s, advances in wastewater treatment technology have led to considerably improved surface water quality in the urban areas of many high income countries. However, trace concentrations of organic wastewater-associated contaminants may still pose a key environmental hazard impairing the ecological quality of surface waters. To identify key impact factors, we analyzed the effects of a wide range of anthropogenic and environmental variables on the aquatic macroinvertebrate community. We assessed ecological water quality at 26 sampling sites in four urban German lowland river systems with a 0–100% load of state-of-the-art biological activated sludge treated wastewater. The chemical analysis suite comprised 12 organic contaminants (five phosphor organic flame retardants, two musk fragrances, bisphenol A, nonylphenol, octylphenol, diethyltoluamide, terbutryn), 16 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and 12 heavy metals. Non-metric multidimensional scaling identified organic contaminants that are mainly wastewater-associated (i.e., phosphor organic flame retardants, musk fragrances, and diethyltoluamide) as a major impact variable on macroinvertebrate species composition. The structural degradation of streams was also identified as a significant factor. Multiple linear regression models revealed a significant impact of organic contaminants on invertebrate populations, in particular on Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera species. Spearman rank correlation analyses confirmed wastewater-associated organic contaminants as the most significant variable negatively impacting the biodiversity of sensitive macroinvertebrate species. In addition to increased aquatic pollution with organic contaminants, a greater wastewater fraction was accompanied by a slight decrease in oxygen concentration and an increase in salinity. This study highlights the importance of reducing the wastewater-associated impact on surface waters. For aquatic ecosystems in urban areas this would lead to: (i) improvement of the ecological integrity, (ii) reduction of biodiversity loss, and (iii) faster achievement of objectives of legislative requirements, e.g., the European Water Framework Directive.

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