Is reuse of wastewater a risk for ecosystems and health?

Abwasserwiederverwendung - ein Risiko für Umwelt und Gesundheit
Exposure of tomatoes (hydroponic) (Picture: M. Möder)

Climate change, growing population and industrialization are factors that aggravate water scarcity in many countries. Treated and even untreated wastewater is increasingly reused in agriculture for irrigation of food plants. The organic and inorganic pollutants remaining in reclaimed water can be taken up by plants and thus find their way into the food web. In our research we study the plant uptake of organic, bioactive pollutants such as pharmaceutical compounds. The in-plant translocation and metabolism of the pollutants is studied in order to understand their fate in a complex soil/water-plant system and to identify possible risks for consumers. Next to appropriate sample preparation methods we develop sensitive and selective (H)UPLC-MS-MS and UPLC-qToF methods for trace detection and metabolite identification in plants. Cooperation partners as the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops support us with exposure of eatable plants in greenhouse experiments. Investigation of the uptake of wastewater-typical pollutants by vegetables was our contribution to the “Roof-Water-Farm” project that combined the reuse of treated municipal grey and black water for cultivating fish and vegetables. Environmental pollution by antibiotics is of increasing concern due to their ability to generate resistant pathogens. In the Ecotechnological Research Facility in Langenreichenbach we study the occurrence of selected antibiotic compounds in wetland systems treating municipal wastewater. In cooperation with the Department of Biotechnology and the Centre for Environmental Biotechnological at UFZ the influence of the antibiotics on formation and distribution of resistant germs and genes are studied.