Water pollution occurs when water bodies are contaminated by wastewater that is discharged without adequate treatment to remove harmful compounds. The direct or indirect discharge of substances into the aquatic environment leads to potential hazards to human health and aquatic ecosystems, and damages or interferes with legitimate uses of water. Among contaminants of emerging concern, of particular interest, are Persistent Mobile Organic Contaminants (PMOC). These are highly polar compounds likely to persist in the water cycle (e.g. in drinking and irrigation water), which degrade very slowly and are very mobile in an aqueous medium, including water in biological tissues. Exposure to PMOC, with particular reference to PerFluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS), can lead to serious health effects, which in many cases cannot be adequately assessed because of a lack of both monitoring data and knowledge about eco-toxicological properties. The abovementioned problem takes a high priority in European policy-making and is addressed by the Water Framework Directive.
The LIFE PHOENIX project aimed to demonstrate how a new interinstitutional governance system, supported by innovative forecast tools based on ongoing monitoring, can more effectively and efficiently manage the risks related to the diffusion of Persistent Mobile Organic Contaminants (PMOC) – with a particular focus on PerFluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS). This system would help avoid, or at least reduce, public expenditure on damage caused by PMOC, which represents a major threat to public health through drinking and irrigation water. Project actions would involve impact assessment through monitoring, development of forecast modelling instruments, early warning tools, and mitigation measures. These actions would contribute to the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, including its objectives to promote sustainable water-use and pollution-control measures, and also to some of the objectives of the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources.
Specific project objectives were to:
- Create a Permanent Regional Commission for PFAS supported by a Multidisciplinary Experts’ Panel in order to implement policy measures and actions to prevent or limit problems related to PMOC;
- Prepare guidelines on how to address problems related to PMOC and risk prevention;
- Provide well-timed and innovative environmental tools for the estimation of PMOC distribution and risks (e.g. early-warning tools), based on thorough and multidisciplinary data collection, to provide datasets and analyses in support of ongoing monitoring and risk assessment;
- Propose mitigation strategies based on innovative technological and natural solutions; and
- Transfer the project approach and solutions to other geographical contexts characterised by episodes of similar environmental contamination.
The LIFE PHOENIX project achieved its goal of setting up an interdisciplinary governance system to manage the risks related to persistent mobile organic contaminants and emerging pollutants, with particular reference to PerFluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS). The project team established a regional commission and developed supporting scientific tools, to help prevent future pollution emergencies in the Veneto Region of Italy.
More specifically, the Permanent Regional Commission established during the project will be responsible for the long-term management and prevention of contamination emergencies, and for drafting and implementing water safety plans. This Commission, composed of multi-disciplinary experts, will take advantage of the scientific tools implemented by the project and the acquisition of new data from stakeholders.
The project team implemented a series of scientific tools to manage, prevent and mitigate the risks due to contamination from emerging, persistent and mobile pollutants. In particular, the project developed the following innovative tools:
- A digital data warehouse that collects, centralises and supports the analysis of environmental data provided by all the regional stakeholders involved in the project;
- A flow and transport numerical model to assess the path of the contaminants in water bodies from the point source of contamination;
- A biological and eco-toxicological early-warning system to detect the risk of contamination from an analysis of environmental matrices;
- An analytical methodology to implement analysis for the detection of PFAS in soil, and vegetable and animal matrices.
The project team demonstrated the possibility of using constructed wetlands to remove PFAS contamination from water, at pilot and full scale. In these artificial wetlands the soil and plants adsorb and store the contaminants, limiting their diffusion in the environment.
An assessment of the social and economic impacts of contamination emergencies demonstrated that contaminants in the trophic chain can be limited, and that mitigations measures can be implemented to reassure residents in the contaminated areas. The study showed that private and public money can be saved thanks to the prevention measures.
The project supports the implementation of the EU Drinking Water Directive, and the Italian Plan for prevention of water contamination. The latter foresees the development of Water Safety Plans at regional level, based on guidelines developed by the project.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).