Abstract

The anthropogenic release of chemicals from industry, agriculture and the breakdown of consumer wastes constitute a major threat to water resources and public health. Pollution is severe and increasing in the developing world where chemical substances are produced, used, and disposed of in an unregulated manner. The global public health consequences of chemical pollution are comparable to or greater than those of widespread infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. However, chemicals have so far been neglected by the WaSH sector. Here, we report the results of a systematic review of the Journal of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene for Development (2011–2018) and oral/poster presentations given at the UNC Water & Health Conference (2010–2018). The review enumerated studies that focused on water quality and treatment from a chemical perspective, highlighting in particular organic contaminants of emerging concern. Organic chemicals were addressed in only 2% of journal articles and fewer than 0.7% of conference presentations. Geogenic contaminants arsenic and fluoride were only addressed in 2–3% of articles and presentations. The review concludes that a rapid, major effort to address toxic chemicals in WaSH is necessary to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals for universal access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030.

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