Tracking down micropollutants

Laufzeit 10/2012–09/2015

The project is studying how drug residue in the water cycle might be minimised with the help of technical and communications measures.

Research approach

Because its population has a high degree of awareness for environmental issues, the city of Dülmen in the German state of Northrhine-Westfalia is an excellent testing ground for an innovative concept to reduce the amount of micropollutants in the water cycle: Firstly, the problem of drug residue is going to be tackled with the help of state-of-the-art technology, i.e. a pilot plant research operation in which sewage is treated with activated carbon and ozone. Secondly, the population is going to be made aware of the problem of micropollutants in the water. ISOE is active as a consultant in this area. The goal of the project is to make people more aware of these drug-related issues whenever possible. Of course treatment goals may not be compromised in any way, so physicians and pharmacists are vital partners in the project.

Origin analysis and raising awareness

The researchers analyse the amount of drugs used and their disposal paths. Based on this data, they develop a communication plan that demonstrates ways of minimising and preventing environmental contamination. ISOE offers support and consulting for the ‘Lippeverband’ when addressing the population at large, as well as physicians and pharmacists. The goal is to find out how far behaviour can be made to change, and how much behaviour change can impact protection of the environment.

In the final stage of the project, ISOE supports the evaluation of the project initiatives using Bayesian networks (BNs). The BN model should integrate the results of the different elements of the project – communication measures, information regarding disposal paths, prescription levels and wastewater treatment, and it aims to provide an overview of the effects of each component on the final concentration of pharmaceutical residues in surface water.


More and more drugs are being taken, not just globally, but in Germany too. After medication is ingested, patients excrete some of the active agents. This way, but also due to faulty disposal methods, drug residue gets into the water cycle. By this time drug residue has been found in bodies of surface water, in groundwater and even in drinking water. Conventional sewage treatment plants need extremely expensive technology upgrades in order to remove these micropollutants from the wastewater.

Project partners

  • Lippeverband, Essen (Consortium leader)
  • Rhein-Ruhr-Institute for Empirical Social Research (RISP)
  • ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research
  • Leuphana University Lüneburg, Institute for Sustainable Environmental Chemistry
  • keep it balanced (kib)


The project “Origin analysis and raising awareness to prevent micropollutants entering the water in Dülmen” as a part of “Tracking down micropollutants” is being funded by the Ministry for the Protection of the Climate, Environment, Landscape, Nature and Consumers (MKULNV) of the state of Northrhine-Westfalia and is being co-funded by the European INTERREG-IVB-programme within the “NoPILLS” project.


2012/10 – 2015/09