routineda - identifying pollutants in effluent

The antibiotics assay that was developed within the RoutinEDA project is currently being used to identify antimicrobial substances in effluent. We want to know the identity of these compounds, as they may be of concern to environmental and human health. Effluent samples (water discharged by sewage treatment plants (WWTPs)) from the E-PRTR sampling campaign are used in the current study. E-PRTR is an abbreviation for 'European Pollutant Transfer Register', a European regulation stating that sewage treatment plants should report on emissions.

We are screening the effluent of six WWTPs, sampled at two different time points. Using a technique called effect-directed analysis (EDA), which combines chemical and biological measurements, we aim to identify antimicrobials with a response in the bioassay. In addition to antimicrobial activity, we are applying the GR-CALUX bioassay for the identification of glucocorticoids. This is done in collaboration with Het Waterlaboratorium, a member of the RoutinEDA user committee.

Enriched water samples are fractionated with liquid chromatography and a fraction collecting apparatus (the FractioMateTM device). The resulting fractions are collected in well plates, on which the bioassays are applied. Samples are also measured on a high-resolution mass spectrometer. The fractions with bioactivity are used to guide identification efforts in the mass spectrometry data by applying suspect- and nontarget screening techniques.


Figure 1. The antibiotics bioassay response, where bacterial growth is plotted against (fractionation) time. Some fractions show antimicrobial activity. 


Figure 2. The FractioMateTM device (left) is used to fractionate the samples eluting from the LC-column (right). A QTOF (middle), a high-resolution mass spectrometer, is used to detect the thousands of accurate masses.



On 25th March 2020, the fieldwork for the rural case of the SUSPECt project started. At eight locations in the Barneveld area we placed passive samplers in the streams to investigate the presence of Veterinary Pharmaceuticals. At each location, one pair of samplers was kept for 12 weeks, whereas another pair was changed every 4 weeks. This has been done to explore the temporal distribution of measured quantities and to explore the influence of manure application and hydrological patterns. Fieldwork ended in June 2020, and first laboratory results were obtained in December same year. Presence of four targeted substance groups (antibiotics, antiparasitics, hormones and disinfectants) was confirmed. 

From toilet to river

Already a while ago, efforts of three NWO-TTW projects on chemicals of emerging concern were combined and led to the publication of an H2O article. Lara Schuijt (WUR), Caterina Zillien and Tamara van Bergen (RU) present a framework for micropollutants (“from toilet to river”) and elaborate on this with a case study of fluoxetine in Nijmegen.

The article describes which insights and results the combined projects are expected to deliver. From the preliminary case study, they conclude that the quality of input data is of crucial importance in order to make valuable emission estimates and to do an acceptable risk assessment. As researchers, we are always looking for more data! So if you can help us with relevant datasets, please contact us (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

The article is in Dutch and you can find it here:


Bergen Figuur2

Start sampling Campaign Urban case

On Thursday 19 September, the fieldwork for the urban case of the SUSPECt project started. At four locations throughout Nijmegen we placed small sponges (passive samplers) in the sewer to assess the CEC composition of different wastewater types (domestic, industrial, surface run-off). These sponges remain in the underworld for one to 6 weeks until we retrieve them again and take them to the laboratory for further analysis. We expect to obtain the first results in November.

The start of the sampling campaign was covered by the media including OmroepGelderland and Radboud University’s magazine VOX.

Welcome to!

Welcome to the website of the Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC) partnership.

Research themes of the partnership:

i.   Effect directed monitoring
ii.  Sustainable treatment technology for municipal effluents
iii. Effective control

Projects of the partnership:

  1. AdOx - a next generation adsorption-oxidation process for removal of CECs from municipal wastewater
  2. Cost-Efficient Removal of Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Urban Waste Water Treatment Plants CER-CEC
  3. Decision SUpport ToolS for Risk-based Prioritization and Control of Contaminants of Emerging Concern (SUSPECt)
  4. EMERCHE: Effect-directed Monitoring tools to assess Ecological and human health Risks of CHemicals of Emerging concern in the water cycle
  5. RoutinEDA: expanding the scope and downscaling the format of high throughput Effect-Directed Analysis for routine water cycle monitoring and effective control

For more information, visit the NWO website of this program (Dutch).


Information about projects that is available publicly.

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