Further description:-  Emerging Pollutants 

Glossary Entry
Pollutants that have been recently discovered in the environment such as endocrinial disruptors 
resulting of some organic compounds degradation or introduction of medicine in the natural milieu.
Level 1: Diffuse Pollution:

Emerging Contaminants (Table 1) are suspected of causing adverse effects in humans and wildlife. For instance, pentabromobiphenylether, 4-nonylphenol, C10-C13 chloroalkanes and the di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) have been listed as priority hazardous substances in the field of water policy by EC Water Directive 2000/60/EC and the final EU decision No. 2455/2001/EC. Active hormonal substances (natural hormones are active at levels of ng/l) are being widely used in human and veterinary medicine such as estrogens, anti-inflammatory cortico-steroids and anabolic androgens.


Table 1: Emerging compound classes




Veterinary and human antibiotics


Trimethoprim, erytromycine, lincomycin, sulfamethaxozole

Analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs

Codein, ibuprofene, acetaminophen, acetylsalicilyc acid, diclofenac, fenoprofen

Psychiatric drugs


Lipid regulators

Bezafibrate, clofibric acid, fenofibric acid


Metoprolol, propanolol, timolol

X-ray contrasts

Iopromide, iopamidol, diatrizoate

Steroids and hormones

Estradiol, estrone, estriol, diethylstilbestrol

Personal care products


Sun-screen agents

Insect repellents


Nitro, polycyclic and macrocyclic musks,

Benzophenone, methylbenzylidene camphor



Triclosan, Chlorophene

Surfactants and surfactant metabolites

Alkylphenol ethoxylates, 4-nonylphnol,

4-octylphenol, alkylphenol carboxylates

Flame retardants

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs),

Tetrabromo bisphenol A,  C10-C13 chloroalkanes

Tris (2-chloroethyl)phosphate

Industrial additives and agents

Chelating agents (EDTA), aromatic sulfonates,

Gasoline additives

Dialkyl ethers, Methyl-t-butyl ether (MTBE)



Further information:


Surface water contaminated by municipal and industrial sources, and diffuse pollution sources from urban and agricultural areas continue to build up pollution levels in the environment. Numerous field studies, designed to provide basic scientific information related to the occurrence and potential transport of contaminants in the environment are being continuously conducted with the aim to identify which contaminants enter the environment, at what concentrations, and in what combinations. A large body of literature exists on occurrence of specific groups of organic contaminants in the environment. However, in the past research priorities have focused on priority pollutants, such as POPs, pesticides, toxic metals, radionuclides. Only recently, the attention of the scientific community has started to shift to emerging contaminants. Therefore, a major challenge will be to identify the chemicals which potentially will become dangerous in the future. It has to be cleared if it is sufficient to look (just) for persistent, high flux, toxic, endocrine active compounds.

The major sources of environmentally relevant emerging contaminants are primarily wastewater treatment plants effluents, and secondarily terrestrial run-offs (roofs, pavement, roads, agricultural land) including atmospheric deposition. Characteristic of some contaminants is that they do not need to be persistent in the environment to cause negative effects since their high transformation/removal rates is compensated by their continuous introduction into the environment. For most of the occurring emerging contaminants, risk assessment and ecotoxicological data are not available and therefore it is difficult to predict which health effects they may have on humans, terrestrial and aquatic organisms, and ecosystems. Also the budgets (sources, enrty routes, and fate) for environmental pollutants would be of importance. Tab. 2 summarises the data regarding the occurrence of several emerging contaminants in the environment.


Table 2: Summary data for selected emerging contaminants.





Observed in environment

Concentration level


Degradation product of non ionic surfactants

Medium persistent






Low mg/kg*

Low mg/kg

Low-high mg/kg

Low µg/L

Bisphenol A


Not bioaccumulative

Surface water


Low-high ng/L

Low-high ng/L



Low to medium persistent

atmospheric deposition




Low-medium µg/L

Low µg/kg

Low-medium µg/kg


Flame retardant

Persistent/highly accumulative

atmospheric deposition




Low-medium µg/kg

Low-high ng/kg*

Low-medium µg/kg

C10-C13 chloroalkanes

Flame retardant




Surface water

Low-medium µg/L



Human and veterinary drug

Slightly-very persistent




Human and veterinary drug

Moderately-very persistent





Steroid sex hormones


Moderately persistent




Low ng/L

Low µg/kg

Low-medium µg/kg


Gasoline additive


Not bioaccumulative - but ubiquitous in the atmosphere



*sludge amended soil



Key publications


Jones, K. C., Stratford, J. A., Waterhouse, K. S., Furlong, E. T., Giger, W., Hites, R. A., Schaffner, C. and Johnston, A. E. (1989). Increases in the polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon content of an agricultural soil over the last century.  Environ. Sci. Technol.  23: 95-101.

Jones, K. C., Grimmer, G., Jacob, J. and Johnston, A. E. (1989). Changes in the polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) content of wheat grain and pasture grassland over the last century from one site in the UK. Sci. Tot. Environ.  78: 117-130.

Kjeller, L-O., Jones, K. C., Johnston, A. E. and Rappe, C. (1991). Increases in the polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin and -furan (PCDD/F) content of soils and vegetation since the 1840s. Environ. Sci. Technol. 25: 1619-1627.

Jones, K. C., Sanders, G., Wild, S. R., Burnett, V. and Johnston, A. E. (1992).  Evidence for a decline of PCBs and PAHs in rural UK vegetation and air.  Nature 356: 137-140.

Wild, S. R., Jones, K. C. and Johnston, A. E. (1992).  Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in herbage from a long-term grassland experiment.  Atmos. Environ. 26A: 1299-1307.

Alcock, R. E., Johnston, A. E., McGrath, S. P., Berrow, M. L. and Jones, K. C.  (1993).  Long-term changes in the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) content of United Kingdom soils. Environ. Sci. Technol.  27: 1918-1923.

Kjeller, L-O, Jones, K. C., Johnston, A. E. and Rappe, C.  (1996). Evidence for a decline in atmospheric emissions of PCDD/Fs in the UK. Environ. Sci. Technol. 30: 1398-1403.

Meijer, S. N., Halsall, C. J., Harner, T. J., Peters, A. J., Ockenden, W. A., Johnston, A. E. and Jones, K. C. (2001). Organochlorine pesticide residues in archived UK soil. Environ. Sci. Technol. 35: 1989-1995.

Meijer, S. N., Harner, T. J., Helm, P. A., Halsall, C. J., Johnston, A. E. and Jones, K. C. (2001). Polychlorinated naphthalenes in UK soils: time trends, markers of source and equilibrium status. Environ. Sci. Technol. 35: 4205-4213.

Petrovic, M., E. Eljarrat, M.J. Lopez de Alda, D. Barceló. Analisis and environmental levels of endocrine-disrupting compounds in freshwater sediments. Trends in Analytical Chemistry (2001) 20:637-648.



Policy and regulations


Stockholm convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

The Stockholm Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs are chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms and are toxic to humans and wildlife. POPs circulate globally and can cause damage wherever they travel. In implementing the Convention, Governments will take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment.




Decision support / management tools




Country information / Library



D. Barcelo, P. Grathwohl, K. Jones, K.-U. Totsche




Who does what?

SOWA – Integrated Soil and water Protection: Risks from diffuse pollution






SOWA Working Group “Inventory: “Identification of priority compound classes”

Lead: Damiį Barcelņ (dbcqam@cid.csic.es)

The most relevant organic compounds such as persistent organic pollutants POPs, i.e. polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are inventored and discussed. The relevance of emerging and new compounds and their impact on soil, water, and ecosystems is adressed and as a main future task, the following future research needs are identified:

·        the urgent need of a European list of emerging contaminants,

·        the interaction of chemicals between soil and water as a key issue

·        the lack of studies to assess the functioning of the water/soil system.





No Author information available