What it contains
EPA plays a role in educating Victorians about the use of recycled water. We work with government partners, the water industry and academic institutions to understand and act on potential risks of harm to human health and the environment.
Recycled water has become a valuable resource in our drying climate. As Victoria’s population grows, we need to make better use of recycled water and understand emerging and legacy contaminants.
Emerging contaminants include 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.
An example of legacy emerging contaminants are per-and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS doesn’t easily break down in the environment. There are low levels of PFAS in soil, sediment, water, and animals across most of Victoria.
We call these contaminants ‘emerging’ because information about them is limited. Importantly, the risks emerging contaminants pose to our health and the environment are not yet fully understood.
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.
The study analysed samples at 31 wastewater treatment plants across Victoria and looked at water samples across the three different types of recycled water – class A, B and C. Because recycled water is not used for human consumption i.e. drinking, the study did not include the sampling of potable water.
What we found
The study found 180 chemicals in treated wastewater including pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, and personal care products. This result is consistent with similar studies conducted in other parts of the world. Concentrations of emerging contaminants were lower in effluent (treated wastewater) than in influent (raw sewage). However, some compounds pass through processing in wastewater treatment plants relatively untreated.
EPA also tested for 30 different types of PFAS. The tests found PFAS in both incoming wastewater and outgoing, treated wastewater. None of the PFAS concentrations detected exceeded human health guidelines.
What this means
The presence of emerging contaminants in recycled water does not necessarily mean there are risks to human health and the environment. There are different classes of recycled water based on the level of treatment and water quality. These classes ensure that recycled water is used in a way that is fit for purpose.
Victoria has strict regulations on managing water quality and sewage. Water corporations must have monitoring programs, procedures, and processes to meet their responsibilities under state environment protection laws.
Next stepsFurther research is underway. EPA, water corporations and research institutions are working together to understand the effects of emerging contaminants, and to develop solutions. This includes an EPA-led study on emerging contaminants in soil and crops irrigated with different classes of recycled water.
- Target audience
- Victoria’s water sector
- Publication number
- Number of pages
- Release date
- 5 June 2023
- Reading level
- Document version
Reviewed 5 June 2023