A review of wastewater handling in the Arctic with special reference to Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) and microbial pollution

Ragnhildur Gunnarsdottir, Petter Deinboll Jenssen, Pernille Erland Jensen, Arne Villumsen, Roland Kallenborn

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Treatment of wastewater is often inadequate or completely lacking in Arctic regions. Wastewater contains different kinds of substances that can be harmful for the environment and human health, including residues of pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Bioaccumulation and biomagnifications of chemicals in the food web are of concern. This can affect fishery that is a significant industry in many Arctic coastal regions. Wastewater from human settlements may also contain antibiotic resistant bacteria and pathogens that can cause negative impacts on human health and the environment. In the Arctic, especially, the direct release of untreated sewage may have severe consequences for the receiving environment due to low biological diversity, low ambient temperatures and consequently high vulnerability of the Arctic ecosystem to environmental contaminants. Bucket toilets are common in remote settlements but are also used in towns. In settlements having inadequate sanitary facilities the risk of contracting diseases, such as hepatitis A, is unacceptably high. Conventional centralized wastewater collection systems and treatment plants are a challenge to build in the Arctic and expensive to operate. Thus alternative methods are needed. Possible solutions are improved dry or low flush toilets with collection of toilet waste at the household level and subsequent centralized treatment by dry composting or anaerobic digestion. Both treatment methods facilitate co-treatment of wastewater along with other organic waste fractions and provide a by-product that is environmentally safe and easy to handle. Combining the above with decentralized greywater treatment will reduce the costs for expensive infrastructure.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcological Engineering
Pages (from-to)76-85
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Arctic
  • Wastewater
  • Public health
  • Pharmaceutical residues
  • Antibiotic resistant bacteria
  • Composting
  • Anaerobic digestion


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