Emerging contaminants include, for example, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and personal care products. They are natural or manmade chemicals that may cause known or suspected changes to our environment and/or human health. 

With the increased use of recycled water in Victoria, EPA takes a proportionate, risk-based approach to understanding and managing potential risks of harm to human health and the environment. We do this by:  

  • working with Victoria’s water sector and industry on recycled water guidance, including how to assess and manage potential risks of harm  
  • leading or partnering on research that helps us identify and learn more about emerging contaminants in the environment. This research helps us build community confidence in the safe and suitable use of recycled water. 


In 2021, EPA scientists partnered with the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (formerly the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) and 13 of Victoria’s water corporations to do a study on emerging contaminants in recycled water.  

This study aimed to help Victoria’s water sector better understand emerging contaminants so that potential environmental and public health risks can be managed. 

While we detected 180 chemicals in treated wastewater, none of the levels exceeded current human health guidelines. These findings are consistent with the findings of similar studies conducted in other parts of the world.  

The source of the emerging contaminants in wastewater is us – the chemicals, medicines, and products we use travel down the drain and into wastewater treatment plants. EPA’s role is to regulate how businesses and industry use, store and dispose of their waste, but we can all make a difference by reducing our pollution and waste. We can do this by:  

  • Taking medicines only as directed and returning unwanted and expired medicines to your local pharmacy  
  • Choosing chemical free cleaning products  
  • Minimising the use of pesticides in our gardens and bug sprays in the home 
  • Keeping onsite wastewater management systems well maintained and avoiding powerful chemicals.   


Reviewed 5 June 2023