Risk assessment of contaminants of emerging concern in the context of wastewater reuse for irrigation: An integrated modelling approach

Riccardo Delli Compagni, Marco Gabrielli, Fabio Polesel, Andrea Turolla, Stefan Trapp, Luca Vezzaro, Manuela Antonelli*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Direct reuse of reclaimed wastewater (RWW) in agriculture has recently received increasing attention as a possible solution to water scarcity. The presence of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in RWW can be critical, as these chemicals can be uptaken in irrigated crops and eventually ingested during food consumption.

In the present study, an integrated model was developed to predict the fate of CECs in water reuse systems where RWW is used for edible crops irrigation. The model was applied to a case study where RWW (originating from a municipal wastewater treatment plant) is discharged into a water channel, with subsequent irrigation of silage maize, rice, wheat and ryegrass. Environmental and human health risks were assessed for 13 CECs, selected based on their chemical and hazard characteristics. Predicted CEC concentrations in the channel showed good agreement with available measurements, indicating potential ecotoxicity of some CECs (estrogens and biocides) due to their limited attenuation. Plant uptake predictions were in good agreement with existing literature data, indicating higher uptake in leaves and roots than fruits. Notably, high uncertainties were shown for weakly acidic CECs, possibly due to degradation in soil and pH variations inside plants. The human health risk due to the ingestion of wheat and rice was assessed using the threshold of toxicological concern and the hazard quotient. Both approaches predicted negligible risk for most CECs, while sulfamethoxazole and 17α-ethinylestradiol exhibited the highest risk for consumers. Alternative scenarios were evaluated to identify possible risk minimization strategies (e.g., adoption of a more efficient irrigation system).
Original languageEnglish
Article number125185
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Dietary intake
  • Micropollutants
  • Model-based assessment
  • Plant uptake

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