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Understanding the context for the D4RUNOFF project

The D4RUNOFF project aims to address water pollution caused from urban runoff, by improving the quality of water that gets released back into our natural water systems after natural events like rainfall and snowfall. The project has specific objectives and aims, but why is there this need?

EU’s Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive

Urban wastewater is one of the main sources of water pollution, if it is not collected and treated according to EU rules. The rules governing this come from the EU’s Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, which was adopted in 1991 and has been in force for more than 30 years. Since its adoption, the quality of European rivers, lakes and seas has dramatically improved. Yet there is still pollution that needs to be addressed which is not covered by the current rules.

In October 2022, the commission revised this Directive[1] after an extensive impact assessment and included new rules and revisions that:

– improve water quality by addressing remaining urban wastewater pollution

– require EU countries to monitor pathogens in wastewater

– lead to a more circular sector

– cut microplastics emissions by 9%

These are only some of the extensive revisions implemented for new standards that ensure significant improvements to water quality, access to improved sanitation and reduction in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. D4RUNOFF plays a role in materialising these revisions through:

  • developing a framework for categorising and monitoring pollutants,
  • developing hybrid nature based solutions for collecting and treating urban runoff,
  • developing methods to capture new pollutants currently not monitored,
  • validating these methods and tools for easy replicability across locations in Europe, and perhaps beyond.

New pollutants

Alongside the updated Directive, there has also been growing concern around microplastics and the emergence of ‘forever chemicals’. Pollutants are so named because of their inability to break down in the environment, leading to build up in the human body, with the potential to be toxic. In a mapping project conducted by The Forever Pollution Project[2], it was revealed that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a family of about 10,000 chemicals valued for their non-stick and detergent properties, have made their way into water, soils, and sediments from a wide range of consumer products, firefighting foams, waste and industrial processes. PFAs have been detected in livestock, river fish and even our ground water. It is important to track the levels of these pollutants at various sources to help identify the actions needed for intervention.

Microplastics have been another big issue for many years, especially within the textile and tyre industries. There are a wide variety of sources along the life cycle of plastic products making microplastics ubiquitous to our environment. Concern is growing over its cumulative effects to human health and ecosystems[3]. These are concerning from an urban runoff perspective as wear and tear of synthetic products like tyres, paint off surfaces, and various fabrics discard microplastics. From the production cycle to its final avatar, synthetic products release microplastics into the environment. These can then accumulate in water supplies, be ingested by marine life, accumulate in soil and eventually make their way into humans when affected food or water is ingested.

North America, Western Europe, and Japan alone account for almost a third of total microplastic released into the environment. In particular, the abrasion of vehicle tyres and the washing of synthetic clothing account for 62% of microplastics releases in these macro regions (UNEP, 2018)[4].

Urban infrastructure

Many European cities are still using old infrastructure for wastewater management. This sometimes involves overflow systems which release out into the environment without going through proper treatment steps. Extreme weather events due to climate change is further testing the infrastructures in place.

D4RUNOFF project

All of this leads to why the D4RUNOFF project is in existence. The consortia got together to answer the call on CLEAN ENVIRONMENT AND ZERO POLLUTION (HORIZON-CL6-2021-ZEROPOLLUTION-01), on the topic HORIZON-CL6-2021-ZEROPOLLUTION-01-03: Preventing and managing diffuse pollution in urban water runoff.

Having begun in September 2022 and running until February 2026, the project has the following objectives:

O1: New methods for the characterisation of urban pollutants

O2: Development of new sensors for remote measurement

O3: Methodology for the design of hybrid solutions

O4: Risk assessment and mapping

O5: Development of AI platform for management of urban runoff

O6: Validation of solutions in case studies

O7: Knowledge transfer

The three case studies identified are at different stages of implementing the mitigation solutions.

Pontedera: Combined drainage system. No NBS for water management in the urban environment.

Odense: Combined (50%) and separate (50%) drainage system. Extensive implementation of NBS for urban water management.

Santander: Combined drainage system. Initial implementation of NBS for urban water management.

We will be sharing more on each of the case studies, so stay tuned! Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for more information and progress reports.





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