Stockholm International Water Institute / Aarhus university / AquaFed / World Health Organization

Wastewater & Health: Setting the scene

Wednesday 30 August | 09.00-10.30 | Room: FH 300
Photo: Robert Bos

As pollution and microbial threats continue to jeopardize human health and the magnitude and complexity of these health threats continue to increase, preventive risk management must be included in sanitation and wastewater management. Catastrophic pollution events make the headlines, but represent the tip of the iceberg. Health impact assessments, sanitation safety plans, and complementary approaches can be applied in diverse settings to safeguard human health from wastewater risks and identify health co-benefits of wastewater management and use.

The seminar Wastewater and health – managing risks, seizing opportunities aims to identify options for in-depth risk assessments and targeted, innovative solutions to manage wastewater better, reduce risks to human health, and maximize health co-benefits. Sound management of wastewater in support of public health is anchored in the 2030 Agenda through SDG target 3.9 to reduce ill-health from hazardous chemicals and pollution of air, water, and soils, and SDG target 6.3 to improve water quality by reducing pollution and increasing safe reuse.

The seminar has three sub-sessions: 

Session 1 (this session): Setting the scene

Session 2: Microbes - research, methods, and tools

Session 3: Implementing target 6.3: Investing for health! Including a final panel on Wastewater & Health – Seizing opportunities, proposing solutions 

Programme

Wastewater & Health: Setting the scene

09:00 Introduction
Hanne Bach
, Aarhus University

09:05 Keynote: Wastewater and Health
Bruce Gordon, World Health Organization 

09:20 Thematic Overview: Wastewater treatment and reuse – chemical water pollution challenges for health
Marianne Thomsen, Aarhus University

09:35 Identifying water quality hotspots for contacts with contaminated surface waters
Ilona Bärlund, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ, Germany

09:45 National standards for wastewater treatment – what is “safely treated”?
Kate Medlicott, WHO, Switzerland 

09:55 Poster Pitch


10:00 Panel Discussion
Public health perspectives of target 6.3: Reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, and minimizing release of hazardous substances while increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
Moderator: Oliver Cumming, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

  • Hannah Leckie, OECD
  • Hartwig Kremer, UNEP
  • Kate Medlicott, WHO
  • Meera Mehta, CEPT University


10:25 Conclusions

 10:30 Close of session

Conclusion

The seminar Wastewater & Health - managing risks, seizing opportunities at World Water Week 2017 aimed to highlight options for in-depth risk assessments and targeted solutions to manage wastewater, reduce risks to human health, and maximize co-benefits for health. The three sessions, engaging speakers, panel discussions, audience Q&As and a debate highlighted risks, tools, and solutions for wastewater management and emphasized options for effective intersectoral action to achieve SDG 6 while protecting and promoting human health.


The first session, Wastewater & Health - Setting the Scene, provided an update on critical public health issues (including anti-microbial resistance) and on evidence for wastewater/health linkages in the SDG framework (targets 3.9 and 6.3). It set the stage for discussions on the importance of wastewater use for the agricultural sector, risky practices in the supply chain of produce, assessment tools like QMRA and measures ensuring safe reuse. The session highlighted the need for health protective national standards for wastewater treatment and use.


The second session, Wastewater & Health - Microbes: Research, Methods, and Tools, emphasized exposure pathways, the importance of actively engaging the agricultural sector in safe wastewater use promotion and recent technological advances (biogenomics). Applying tools such as Health Impact Assessment (HIA) and Sanitation Safety Planning (SSP) in diverse settings to identify contextual risks to human health provide a basis for effective health safeguards. A lively debate of the motion ‘Don’t mix shit and food’ brought out critical technical, institutional and financial issues. The audience was not swayed by the arguments, favouring the position that safe wastewater use in agriculture is a feasible option.


The third session, Wastewater & Health - Implementing Target 6.3: Investing in Health!, emphasized the need for an integrated, intersectoral, approach for implementing both targets 6.2 and 6.3 which present a framework to secure sustainable design, operations and financing of sanitation systems. The importance of understanding how the systems actually operate was emphasised.


Overall, the seminar re-affirmed that far too many chemical and pathogenic pollutants enter the water cycle and remain untreated before disposal or reuse. Monitoring these pollutants together with measures along the entire wastewater chain will effectively reduce human health risks, with HIA and SSP as essential tools. The seminar established that SDG target 6.3 provides an opportunity for an ambitious systems approach protecting human health and the environment by (1) preventing pollutants through regulation and innovation, (2) removing pollution through sustained operations and financing, and (3) restoring and reusing polluted water sources. Coordinated efforts addressing all three areas are key for ensuring the success of SDG 6.


Finally, the discussions highlighted areas where further research and targeted actions are needed. These include: developing national standards and policy frameworks for wastewater treatment and reuse; understanding how to improve implementation of sanitation interventions; improving wastewater treatment processes for more efficient pathogen and heavy metal removal; decoupling technical and natural recycling loops to avoid chemical and microbial contamination and addressing emerging pollutants such as pharmaceuticals and future environmental changes such as climate change to reduce future health impacts.