AQUATIK - Development and validation of advanced monitoring system for control of organic priority pollutants in treated wastewater effluents

LIFE10 ENV/ES/000521

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Contact details:

Contact person: Susana GONZÁLEZ BLANCO
Tel: +34 933124800
Fax: +34933414751
Email: sgonzalez@cetaqua.com

Project description:


The monitoring of priority pollutants in water systems generally involves ad-hoc analysis of water samples collected within specific monitoring campaigns.

However, the implementation of the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires Member States to gain a better understanding of priority pollutants entering surface waters. The WFD requires the establishment of monitoring strategies that combine surveillance with operational and investigative monitoring. A list of 33 priority pollutants has been published and their presence must be monitored and limited in water bodies on an ongoing basis.

The current technologies available to determine the presence of these pollutants in water bodies are time-consuming and expensive to operate. They can also miss the detection of accidental spills. On-line technologies could provide a valuable alternative for measuring the presence of contaminants.


The main objective of the AQUATIK project was to test new methods and techniques for the monitoring of selected priority pollutants in water. The project sought to develop a new automated prototype to measure pollutants discharged in wastewater effluents and related spills in near real-time. From the WFD list of 33 priority pollutants, the project will focus on seven, including pesticides, alkylphenols and phthalates. These have been selected due to their widespread presence in water, especially in the area selected for validation (Llobregat River basin, Barcelona, Spain). The project aimed to design and construct an automated self-controlled device for the detection of the selected priority substances, and to demonstrate this prototype at the Besòs and El Prat wastewater treatment plants (Barcelona). Furthermore, the project team aimed to test the feasibility and the performance (including economic) of using passive samplers and on-site preconcentrations to determine average concentration of alkylphenols, nonylphenol and octylphenol, the phthalate DEHP, and pesticides such as atrazine. This should thus prove suitable for application on a wide scale, as a routine monitoring tool covering sampling, filtering, detection and measurement.


The AQUATIK project developed innovative tools to monitor priority pollutants, listed in the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), from the effluent of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). The technology is highly transferrable, can be readily commercialised (by parts or as a whole once further developed), is highly relevant for EU policies, and if applied will provide long-term environmental, economic and social benefits. The project achieved its main objective by designing, developing and validating a novel automated ‘real-time’ pre-concentration prototype and passive sampler technology to detect and measure priority pollutants discharged in wastewater effluents and related spills. This will meet future requirements of WWTPs to conform to the WFD and two relevant standards proposed in the Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) Directive (2008/105/EC): 1) average concentration calculated over a selected period (AA) and 2) maximum allowable concentration (MAC) when detecting sporadic peaks of concentration. Seven of the 33 priority pollutants were selected for the technological validation in the AQUATIK project, including pesticides, alkylphenols and a phthalate. The prototype was successfully developed, using an innovative micro-algae detector to monitor pollutants in near real-time. It was able to automatically grab a sample from the WWTP effluent and analyse it without any kind of human intervention. The concentrations of three of the seven selected priority pollutants were recorded in near real-time, and all the readings were provided online for remote access to the data. This shows that target pollutant concentrations can potentially be monitored and compared to the EU MAC figures. The monitoring system was also designed to automatically send an early warning to authorities in cases where concentration values do not meet legislated parameters. This could provide major environmental benefits, as prompt operational actions can be carried out to prevent contamination of local ecosystems, lead investigations to the source of pollutant emissions, and help avoid potential spills in the future. Two different types of passive sampler technology - Polar Organic Compounds Integrative Sampler (POCIS) and Continuous Flow Integrative Sampler (CFIS) – were validated to see if they were a reliable option for obtaining average concentrations of the target pollutants. The validation results obtained showed that while the passive samplers gave successful values, the online prototype could only give qualitative information instead of the quantitative data that was expected. Further developments are needed for achieving a successful online prototype, by refining the highly-innovation technology developed, namely, the automatic Filtration Concentration Clean Up (FCCU) module, designed to increase biosensor sensitivity and improve operational management of the system, and the micro-algae biosensors used to detect pollutants. These new technologies would substitute for current spot-sampling methods. The project conducted a cost-benefit analysis to quantify the benefits, along with a market transferability study. The main result of the economic assessment was that the prototype would be a cost-effective alternative to the current processes, as it decreases the cost of sample taking, transport to the laboratory, manual labour and the risk of damage. A key lesson learnt is that the micro-algae used as biosensors are not reliable enough for off-site or on-site analysis of pollutants from wastewater. The reason is that although the micro-algae are selective about the specific pollutant they are designed for, there are too many factors that can inhibit the algae response. The scope of this project was not to investigate this, but the knowledge gained will be highly useful for future research and development projects. The AQUATIK project contributes to the implementation of the EU WFD and the EQS Directive, by facilitating the monitoring of priority pollutants that can cause a significant risk to the environment and to health if present in water bodies. The project also contributes to European policies on eco-innovation. Furthermore, the project can provide benefits to the citizenship by providing tools to improve the quality of surface waters.

An ex-post visit was carried out by the LIFE external monitoring team in October 2018. This concluded that the project’s main impact to date was the important new knowledge acquired. Its main objective was seen as very innovative, though risky in that it developed an advanced monitoring system for organic pollutants in treated wastewater in response to a legal requirement that was not yet mandatory. The step from laboratory to real conditions did not work as expected, but relevant lessons were learned. The online detection of micro-pollutants is, at this moment, in a stand-by situation, and the multinational SUEZ group of companies will further develop the project outcomes once demanded. CETaqua and the other project beneficiaries are all in the SUEZ group, which reduced management problems and ensured that the know-how was kept within the group. The ex-post report also noted that the coordinating beneficiary used the project to validate another technology for pollution detection, which was much closer to commercialisation. In fact, the AQUATIK project upscaled one step of the chain between the research studies and that product, which is now on the market. One of the conclusions of the ex-post study is that the legislative lever is an essential driving force for the funding and development of products for the market. If the new automated online system proves technically and economically viable, according to the report, it would have great benefits in terms of detecting the spillage of pollutants and helping in the response, thus reducing health risks.


Environmental issues addressed:


Risk management - Pollution control


pollution control‚  residual waste‚  waste water treatment

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator Cetaqua, Centro Tecnológico del Agua, Fundación Privada
Type of organisation Research institution
Description CETAQUA is a non-profit research, technological development and innovation centre with a specific focus on water, particularly the complete urban water cycle.
Partners Aquatec, Spain Labaqua, Spain


Project reference LIFE10 ENV/ES/000521
Duration 01-SEP-2011 to 31-DEC -2014
Total budget 1,564,259.00 €
EU contribution 775,879.00 €
Project location Cataluña(España)


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Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version