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Learning about new contaminants starts in the lab

In order to identify necessary mitigation measures to maintain the quality of groundwater, the French National Institute for Industrial Environment and Risks (Ineris) will carry out an environmental risk assessment as part of the UPWATER project. Researcher Julien Michel explains the importance of studying samples from the three case studies: ‘Emerging contaminants need more research.’

Ineris is involved in numerous projects related to emerging contaminants, bringing a wealth of field experience to the UPWATER project. As an industrial and commercial public establishment under the aegis of the French Ministry of Environment, Ineris contributes to characterizing pollution in different environmental media.

Ineris is at the forefront of research projects that aim to comprehend the behaviour of emerging contaminants in soil and groundwater. The primary objective of these initiatives is to enhance the assessment of human health risks associated with contaminated sites. The institute also develops innovative analytical methods to help identify emerging contaminants in groundwater.

According to Julien Michel, an engineer at Ineris specializing in polluted sites and soils, the institute’s role in the UPWATER project is to evaluate the retention of contaminants during their transfer in groundwater, after being released from pollution sources. Ineris assesses the risk of their entry into groundwater to form large contaminant plumes and the risk that they reach sensitive targets such as drinking water wells. To identify the parameters that influence if and how certain contaminants can reach groundwater and ultimately drinking water, Michel and his colleagues will test several factors, such as the pH-value of the solution and different soil compositions.

A site-specific risk assessment in the three case studies will be carried out, helping to create a better understanding of these contaminants’ behaviour in soils.

Control over parameters

Starting in June 2023, Ineris will carry out laboratory analyses of soil and water samples under controlled experimental conditions. ‘When we are working with contaminants that we don’t know, we need to start with experiments that are relatively easy to set up, control and follow’, Michel explains. The necessary samples for this purpose will be procured from the three local case study sites by Aarhus University, the University of Barcelona and the National Technical University of Athens.

‘In the lab we can control most of the parameters, from the temperature down to the solution composition’, Michel says. Therefore, Ineris’ risk assessment reports are an important step towards more knowledge on how to better meet targeted ecological and environmental protection goals for groundwater.

New techniques preventing contamination

The UPWATER project aims to provide new insights and understanding of pollution caused by man-made contaminants such as PFAS. These contaminants have not been extensively studied and need more research, specifically towards their impact on degrading the quality of water. The project involves collaboration between universities, research institutes and stakeholders to gain a better understanding of these pollutants and to develop effective techniques to combat them.

Ineris will share the laboratory findings with project partners who are responsible for evaluating diverse techniques aimed at mitigating pollution caused by man-made contaminants. This collaborative effort seeks to prevent or minimize such pollution, thereby effectively addressing substantial environmental and public health challenges.

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