Persistence of chemicals in aquatic ecosystems: from lab to field

The natural world faces escalating exposure to an array of chemicals as human populations grow and extend their environmental footprint. Among the most impacted ecosystems are aquatic environments, bearing the brunt of anthropogenic chemicals through direct discharge of effluent into waterways and indirect contamination from urban, industrial, and agricultural runoff. These chemicals encompass pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, food additives, and per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS). Despite the mounting concern, the fate of these chemicals in aquatic environments remains largely unknown.

This thesis endeavours to improve our understanding of chemical fate in aquatic ecosystems. To achieve this goal, the project comprises several pivotal components. First, a novel laboratory test was applied to estimate chemical biodegradation rates, providing insights into degradation dynamics under controlled conditions. Next, in-situ experiments were conducted to estimate biodegradation rates in real-world aquatic systems, offering a nuanced understanding of degradation processes in natural environments. Additionally, the study delves into the translation of laboratory-derived biodegradation rates to field scenarios, bridging the gap between controlled experiments and real-world conditions. Finally, from a policy perspective, the thesis aims to synthesise findings to inform regulatory frameworks and management strategies aimed at mitigating chemical impacts on aquatic ecosystems.

By elucidating the fate of chemicals in aquatic environments through a multidisciplinary approach encompassing laboratory experimentation, field studies, and policy analysis, this research strives to contribute knowledge essential for effective environmental stewardship.

Project members

Lily Weir

PhD Candidate

Prof Jochen Mueller

Theme Leader, Emerging Environmental Health Risks

A/Prof Sarit Kaserzon

Co-Theme Leader, Environmental Health Risk Assessment