The Great Lakes and their connecting channels form the largest fresh surface water system on earth. Over the past 10 years, focus on environmental monitoring has shifted to an array of recently discovered compounds known as ‘chemicals of emerging concern’ (CEC). These chemicals are found in products used daily in households, businesses, agriculture and industry, such as flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and pesticides. Wastewater treatment plants are among the important pathways by which CEC enter the Great Lakes, with concentrations highest in the vicinity of wastewater discharges. Treated sewage is often discharged into the nearshore waters, which also provide a source of drinking water to the public. In 2009–2011, the International Joint Commission addressed the need to assess the effectiveness of existing wastewater treatment technologies in the basin to remove CEC, as well as to gain insight on potential advanced technologies to improve their removal. This assessment encompassed three major activities, development of an inventory of municipal wastewater treatment plants that discharge in the basin; a survey of detailed operational data for selected wastewater facilities; and a comprehensive literature review and analysis of the effectiveness of various wastewater treatment technologies to remove chemicals of emerging concern.

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