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Classification, Potential Routes and Risk of Emerging Pollutants/Contaminant

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Yahaya Abdulrazaq, Abdulkareem Abdulsalam, A. Larayetan Rotimi, A. Aliyu Abdulbasit, Okpanachi Clifford, O. Abdulazeez Abdulsalam, O. Nayo Racheal, A. Akor Joy, F. Omale Victor, Z. Mbese Johannes, Muhammad Bilal and Salehdeen Umar M

Submitted: June 30th, 2020 Reviewed: October 12th, 2020 Published: December 11th, 2020

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.94447

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Emerging contaminants (ECs), encompass both natural and synthetic chemicals that are present or transformed to new chemical compounds in water bodies across the globe. They are presently not checked in the environment but poses a serious health threat to human and ecosystem as well as environmental damage. ECs are released into environment during the anthropogenic activities such as water treatments, fumigation, farming etc. More than 1036 ECs and their biotransformation have been identified by the NORMAN project, established in 2005 by the European Commission. They were further classified into different categorizes/classes including disinfection by-products, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, nanomaterials, benzotriazoles, benzothiazoles among others. The potential sources, path route and their health implication on human were also discussed. The presence of ECs in our environments is global issue that requires urgent attention.


  • emerging pollutants
  • contaminants
  • pharmaceuticals
  • personal care products cosmetics
  • disinfectant

1. Introduction

Emerging pollutants (EPs) are natural and synthetic chemicals as well as microbes that are of less concern to the researchers, national and international regulatory bodies [1, 2]. They have not been explicitly studied and there is limited information about their environmental effects, health implications and method of analysis. These pollutants are not new in our environments but they can stay for a longtime in the environment because of their biotransformation, formation of metabolites and by-products [2, 3].

EPs are recently recognized as re-emerging factory-made or naturally formed materials that are detrimental to human health after a long-term exposure and lacking regulatory health standard [4, 5]. They are classified as agricultural (pesticides), industrial and consumer waste products, pharmaceutical and illicit drug as well as personal care products [6, 7, 8]. More than 121 various types of unregulated chemicals and microbes are present in an untreated water and at least 25 were found in water treatment plants (WTP) [9]. Furthermore, unregulated chemicals such as nitrosamines (NAs), dioxane, nanomaterials, pharmaceuticals and personal care products (cosmetics, disinfectant, antiseptic, deodorant stick, soap, fragrances, insect repellent, sunscreen, surfactants and toothpaste) as well as perfluorinated alkyl acids (PFAA) are EPs [8, 10, 11]. For instance, N-Nitroso-dimethylamine (NDMA) an emerging contaminant produced as byproducts of chloramines in drinking water treatment plants [12]. Nanomaterials (NMs) are substances produced with a dimension in nanoscale range from 1 to 100 nanometer as to improve the chemical strength and reactivity [10]. However, some NMs introduced contaminants when used for water treatment. Polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs) PBDEs are brominated hydrocarbons used as flame retardants in the production of furniture, plastics, upholstery, electrical equipment, electronic devices and many other household products [10]. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) fluorinated organic compounds with many industrial applications; such as surfactants in fluoropolymers and as grease, soil and water resistant in fluorinated polymer [13, 14].


2. Classification of emerging pollutants

Emerging pollutants are classified and categorized as follows [15, 16, 17]:

  1. Pharmaceuticals (illicit and prescribed drugs).

  2. Personal care products (cosmetic, surfactants, disinfectants, domestic biocides, food additives).

  3. Industrial chemicals (food additives, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyl, flame retardant, antimicrobial substances)

  4. Disinfection by products (from water treatment plant: Nitrosamine, halonitromethanes, haloacetonitriles, trihalomethanes, halo acetic acids).

  5. Algal toxins (toxic released from some algae: Cyanotoxins, microcystin)

  6. Biocides and their metabolites (plants and agricultural preventive agents [pesticides])

  7. Bioterrorism and disruption devices (Biological and Chemical weapons).

The personal care products and pharmaceuticals as ECs contain active substances in illicit, prescribed and non-prescribed drugs for human and animal consumption. Active ingredients are also found in disinfectants, biocides, preservatives and personal hygiene and beautification products [18]. PPCPs are classified (Table 1) base on the consumer product and their uses [19].

Personal care productsPharmaceuticals
Fragrances, cosmetics, repellents, food supplements and their metabolites, and transformation products personal hygiene products, sunscreen agents, domestic insect,Drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines, antiseptics, hormones, illicit analgesics, antibiotics, lipid regulators, steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, diuretics, non-steroid stimulant drugs, antimicrobials, beta blockers,

Table 1.

Classification of pharmaceuticals and personal care products [16].

More than 1036 EC and secondary metabolites as well as biotransformation products are identified on NORMAN List in Table 2 (NORMAN [20]). The most common classes/categories of ECs include; industrial chemicals, disinfection by-products, pesticides, sweeteners endocrine disrupting compounds, nanoparticles, sunscreens, UV filters, pharmaceuticals and personal care products among others [21, 22, 23].

Category I: Personal care products compound
ATII (traseolide)Boisvelone/Iso-E super
BayrepelButyl methoxydibenzoylmethane
Benzaldehyde, (phenylmethylene)Cineole
hydrazone (Eusolex)Damascone
BenzophenoneDecamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5)
AHDI (phantolide)Boisvelone/Iso-E super
alpha-TerpineolDecamethyltetrasiloxane (MD2M)
4-Methylbenzylidene camphorDodecamethylcyclohexasiloxane(D6)
ADBI (celestolide)Drometrizole
Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamateDrometrizole trisiloxane (INCI)
g-MethyliononeMusk ambrette
Hexamethyldisiloxane (HM or HMDS)Musk ketone
HexylcinnamaldehydeMusk xylene
HomosalateOctamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (D4)
IsobornylacetateOctamethyltrisiloxane (MDM)
Isobutyl parabenOctocrylene
Methyldihydrojasmonate (methyl 3-oxo-2-
Methyl-iso-propylcyclohexenonePropyl paraben
p-t-Bucinal (Lilial)Tonalide
Category II: Personal care products/biocides compounds
Category III: Personal care products/food additive compounds
Butylated hydroxyanisoleButylated hydroxytoluene
2-Ethylthioacetic acid ethylesterDipropyltrisulfide
2-Methylthioacetic acid ethylesterEthylene brassylate
3-Methylthiopropionic acidHabanolide
Category I: Pharmaceuticals compounds
1-Hydroxy ibuprofenCyclophosphamide
2-Hydroxy ibuprofenDesmethylnaproxen (metabolite of naproxene)
1,1,1-Trichloro-2,2-dihydroxyethane (chloral hydrate)Daunorubicin
Acetaminophen (Paracetamol)Doxepine
Acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin)Doxycycline (anhydrous)
AcyclovirDoxycycline (monohydrate)
Albuterol sulfateDiclofenac
AzithromycinEstrone sulfate
BetamethasoneFenofibric acid (metabolite of fenofibrate)
CarazololFenoprofen calcium salt dihydrate
CefoperazoneGlibenclamide (glyburide)
Clofibric acid (metabolite of clofibrate)Hydrocodone
Category II: Pharmaceutical Compounds
IopamidolPenicillin G
IminostilbenePenicillin V
Kanamycin sulfatePindolol
Lithium carbonatePropyphenazone
MeprobamateSecobarbital sodium
Meclofenamic acidSertraline
Mefenamic acidSimvastatin
Neomycin BTaloxa
NorfloxacinTolfenamic acid

Table 2.

Identified pharmaceuticals and personal care products (NORMAN [16, 20]).


3. Potential routes emerging pollutants

Series of anthropogenic activities such as agricultural, domestic and industrial activities leads to the discharged of the pollutants into our environments (Figure 1). Water and sediments serve as a sink to these contaminants [25, 26]. Constant consumption of drugs due to less attention given to traditional medicine for the treatment aliments and frequent use of personal care products as vogue has led to the release of different by-products at low concentrations into our environments [27]. The concentration of these pollutants are based on the production processes of some products (drugs) applied in various countries. For example, the concentration of bisphenol A in European water and North American were 43 and 12 ppb correspondingly [28, 29]. Their presence in water has affected the water physicochemical parameter and required urgent attention to drinking issues. Essentially however, many wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) are not considered or designed for the removal of emerging contaminants as shown Figure 1. As a result of their hydrophobic nature PPCPs and other EC metabolites as well as associated particular mater settled below water surface when discharged in water. Treated and untreated urban water as well as WWTP (Figure 1) are the main sources and path route of EC.

Figure 1.

Potential sources of PPCPs/EDCs in water cycle modified [24].


4. Risk of emerging pollutants

PPCPs are present in our environment at very low concentrations ranging from ng/L to μg/L but there is paucity of information about the various secondary metabolites generated during the biotransformation of parent compounds [16] The impact of the metabolites could be more toxic than the main compounds and their adverse effect on non-target organism is less understood [30]. The longtime exposure to PPCPs pose severe threat to aquatic biota and human life. Also, many studies on environmental toxicology on the exposure of non-target organs to PPCP are results from acute toxicity data [31, 32, 33]. Many PPCPs contained bioactive ingredient that could have a chronic effect non-target biota. Goldfish shows bio-centration factor of 113 when it is exposed to high concentration of PPCPs for 14 days [34]. Chronic effect could lead to gene mutation and decline in fish population. For instance, diclofenac may cause ill-effect on fish organs. Fish are susceptible to PPPCPs contaminants since they live in the environment where these contaminants are present [35]. The presence of carbamazepine and diclofenac in aquatic environs damaged algal chloroplasts [36]. Long time exposure to Sulfamethoxazole cause severe toxicity and inhibit photosynthesis process [37]. Also, ciprofloxacin is toxic to green algae [38]. Natural bacteria developed antibiotic tolerance in PPCP antibiotic contaminated environments [39]. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are also referred to as hormones in aquatic or aqueous environments. Some endocrine chemicals reduce the proper functioning of endocrine system (ES) that is physiological activities [40]. For example, retardation in reproductive processes such as sex variation, poor metabolic and embryonic developments [41]. These environmental hormones could cause serious effects on both aquatic and terrestrials animals through inhibition and modification of hormonal growth in ES and hormones in the cell correspondingly [42].


5. Conclusion

Nowadays there is increase in technologies for the production of goods and services as to meet up the demand of dense population, resulting to release of EC in our environs. EC is a serious environmental issue across globe that desires vital consideration. There is need to development new production technique that uses raw materials that are eco-friendly, less toxic metabolites and by-products in our environment in order to prevent the aquatic biota and ecosystem.



We extent our gratitude to Arch. Mohammed, Moshood Kayode at Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State, Nigeria, Dr. Babatunde, Olubayo and Engr. Adedoja, Samson Oluwaseye at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa for their supports.


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Written By

Yahaya Abdulrazaq, Abdulkareem Abdulsalam, A. Larayetan Rotimi, A. Aliyu Abdulbasit, Okpanachi Clifford, O. Abdulazeez Abdulsalam, O. Nayo Racheal, A. Akor Joy, F. Omale Victor, Z. Mbese Johannes, Muhammad Bilal and Salehdeen Umar M

Submitted: June 30th, 2020 Reviewed: October 12th, 2020 Published: December 11th, 2020