Current wastewater licensing may be inadequate to address current and emerging contaminants

By Elizabeth Morris,Valentina Colombo, Kathryn Hassell, Claudette Kellar, Paul Leahy, Sara M. Long, Jackie H. Myers and Vincent Pettigrove.

Managing risks to protect waterway values

Adaptive framework for wastewater licensing. Credit: Dave Sharley.

Municipal wastewater effluent licensing: A global perspective and recommendations for best practice

This article was published online on 22 december 2016 in Science of The Total Environment and can be found here: For more information please contact Elizabeth Morris


Advances in wastewater treatment have greatly improved the quality of municipal wastewater effluents in many parts of the world, but despite this, treated wastewaters can still pose a risk to the environment. Licensing plays a crucial role in the regulation of municipal wastewater effluents by setting standards or limits designed to protect the economic, environmental and societal values of waterbodies. Traditionally these standards have focused on physical and chemical water quality parameters within the discharge itself, however these approaches do not adequately account for emerging contaminants, potential effects of chemical mixtures, or variations in the sensitivity and resilience of receiving environments. In this review we focus on a number of industrialised countries and their approach to licensing. We consider how we can ensure licensing is effective, particularly when considering the rapid changes in our understanding of the impacts of discharges, the technical advances in our ability to detect chemicals at low concentrations and the progress in wastewater treatment technology. In order to meet the challenges required to protect the values of our waterways, licensing of effluents will need to ensure that there is no disconnect between the core values to be protected and the monitoring system designed to scrutinise performance of the WWTP. In many cases this may mean an expansion in the monitoring approaches used for both the effluent itself and the receiving waterbody.