Water Management & Protection Prize

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damia_barceloDr. Damià Barceló (Catalan Institute for Water Research, Spain).

The prize is awarded to Dr. Barceló for work at the leading edge of water science in understanding the effect of pharmaceuticals in the water environment, developing new methods for future risk assessment and management of emerging contaminants, and the investigation of water quality in intensively-used basins.

Dr. Barceló’s research demonstrates that a broad spectrum of pharmaceuticals are widespread pollutants in aquatic environments and shows that wastewater treatment plant outlets are major contributors to the problem.

At the same time, his work shows how the final treatment steps in treatment plants can considerably reduce the load of pharmaceuticals pollutants in outlets prior to their release, paving the way for more effective treatment processes to control the adverse impact of pharmaceutical pollutants.

Using novel approaches, he was also able to demonstrate the presence of several pharmaceuticals, including ibuprofen, ketoprofen, diclofenac, ofloxacin and azithromycin in sewage sludge, revealing that some pharmaceutical compounds are not removed or are poorly removed by conventional activated sludge wastewater treatment.

Using new analytical approaches for nanotechnologies residues assessment capable of achieving sensitivities in the low ng/L range, Dr. Barcelo was the first to report on the occurrence of fullerenes in suspended solids of wastewater effluents.

His research has far-reaching applications, extending beyond water management. In one pioneering study, Dr. Barceló, for the first time, reported on the widespread occurrence of compounds such as cocaine, benzoylecgonine, ephedrine and ecstasy residues along the Ebro River basin (NE Spain). By evaluating the contribution of sewage treatment plants (STPs) effluents to the presence of these chemicals in natural surface waters, he was able to back calculate drug usage at the community level in the main urban areas of the investigated river basin. This unique forensic approach provided an extrapolation of the consumption data for the area studied, and exposed a total annual consumption of illegal drugs in the order of 36 tons, which would translate into 1100 million Euros on the black market.

These studies are at the leading edge of their field and contribute significantly to our understanding of pharmaceuticals in the water environment, their impact and potential management strategies.

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