Feb 20, 2021 06:52 PM

China to Plug Regulation Gap of Emerging Contaminants Control

China will step up efforts over the next five years to control a relatively high level of emerging contaminants that have yet to come under the country's environmental monitoring system but pose a potential threat to the environment and human health.

Huang Runqiu, China's minister of environment and ecology, has prioritized the control of emerging contaminants last month during an agenda-setting meeting of national ecological protection for the year.

The country's next five-year national development roadmap, the 14th Five-Year Plan(FYP), which will be debated in the top political gatherings next month in Beijing, is also expected to emphasize the control of these new contaminants.

Emerging contaminants(ECs), or contaminants of emerging concern(CECs), refer to chemicals and compounds that are detected at low levels in the water cycle and may impact the environment, aquatic organisms, or human health.

Those contaminants frequently include, but are not limited to, pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), endocrine disruptors (EDCs) and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, pesticide degradation products, sunscreens/UV filters, and algal toxins.

Despite the fact that scientist have been assessing the health risks of emerging contaminants it is still unclear whether, or to what extent, the emerging contaminants could harm human health at the moment.

Wang Xuelei, director at the national lab of environmental and disaster monitoring and assessment in the central Hubei province, told Caixin that the emerging contaminants could be regulated after the health risks have been properly assessed.

"In recent years, some emerging contaminants, such as persistent organic pollutants, EDCs and PFAS and antibiotic resistance genes, have been frequently detected in the sewage, surface water and drinking water of some cities in the Yangtze River basin," warned Zhou Hongyu, a member of China's top legislature, the National People's Congressn(NPC), during last year's legislative meetings. He is also a professor of at Central China Normal University in Wuhan.

ECs enter surface water via runoff, drainage, rainfall, and wastewater treatment effluent, according to a 2014 paper authored by three Chinese researchers reviewing emerging contaminants in surface waters in China.

The frequency with which incidents of ECs occurred increased rapidly from 2006 to 2011, the paper said, adding that the frequency in eastern regions is higher than in western regions in China. It added that a significant reason of the spread of ECs is the production and consumption of pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

Legislative and administrative regulation of ECs is lacking in China. To remove ECs, a number of technologies, such as absorption by activated carbon, membrane filtration technology, and advanced oxidation processes, have been researched, the paper said.

Contact reporter Lu Zhenhua ( and editor Marcus Ryder (

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