“Everything we use makes its way into a water stream somewhere.” Wayne Parker of civil and environmental engineering should know; he’s been researching water safety for 20 years. Recently he expanded his research—traditionally focused on sewage and industrial discharges — to include what the water treatment community calls “emerging contaminants.”
“It’s a broad term,” Wayne explains. “There are pharmaceuticals, personal care products like antibacterial soap, even nanoparticles like the silver that high-end washing machines use.” They go down the drain and some then pass right through existing wastewater treatment plants.
Eventually, they end up in the water—in rivers and lakes and in taps and toilets—but in minute amounts. While estrogens and pseudo-estrogens are beginning to affect the sexual characteristics of fish, for instance, Wayne says no one knows the effect they may be have on human health.
Wayne and his team are both developing new water treatment processes and looking at how to tweak existing equipment to remove these newly identified contaminants. They are also developing models that predict how a given contaminant will move through the water system. These models can be used to design new treatment facilities, estimate the costs of new equipment and guide new regulatory standards.
In 2008, the Ontario government provided $4.8 million toward the founding of the Centre for the Control of Emerging Contaminants. The centre is based at Waterloo, and Wayne is its first director.