Hazardous chemicals impact drinking water in historically marginalized communities around the world.

The WASH-Toxics Working Group is advancing innovative, affordable, and sustainable technologies to control toxic chemicals and supply safe water to resource constrained and developing communities.


The Challenge: Provide Biologically and Chemically Safe Drinking Water

Communities around the world are exposed to hazardous chemicals such as pesticides, pharmaceutical residues, industrial and mining effluents, and waste breakdown products in their drinking water.

So far, the WASH sector has focused on microbiological threats to human health, but has neglected exposures to toxic organic chemicals and heavy metals.

Affordable, accessible, and sustainable technologies for controlling toxic chemicals along with microbial pathogens in drinking water are urgently needed!



Sustainable Development Goals Call for Curbing Toxic Chemicals

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlight the threat to community health from environmental and drinking water exposure to toxic synthetic chemicals.

  • SDG 3.9 “reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination…”
  • SDG 6.3 “improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials…”
  • SDG 12.4 “achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle…and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment…”

One of society’s Grand Challenges for the 21st Century will be discovering and implementing methods for reducing environmental and public health harms from exposure to toxic chemicals.


WASH-Toxics Working Group

Toxic Chemicals are the Blind Spot of current “Safe Water” Initiatives.

While microbial pathogens are a prevalent and acute threat to drinking water safety, most chemical toxins are overlooked in the global WASH development sector.

Therefore, objectives of the WASH-Toxics Working Group include:

  • Raise the problem of hazardous chemical contaminants to prominence in the global WASH sector
  • Stimulate targeted innovation of affordable treatment technologies, along with evaluation of existing pathogen-reducing drinking water interventions for potential chemical removal
  • Generate feedback from experts regarding technical merit and real-world applicability of proposed solutions in an iterative design process
  • Elicit commitment to support research, field testing, deployment, and scale-up of toxic chemical control technologies from major WaSH agencies
  • Provide a forum for networking and collaboration among an interdisciplinary cohort of scholars and practitioners to drive progressive awareness and innovation on the topic of Toxics-in-WaSH


Who should get involved?

Environmental toxicology and health experts, environmental engineers and scientists, water treatment specialists, researchers, development agency program officers, and WaSH practitioners working in the academic, government, non-profit, I/NGO, and private sectors.


 Join today! Email info [at] aqsolutions [dot] org


Meetings Recap

The 2019 Meeting of the WASH-Toxics Working Group was held at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Division of Environmental Chemistry in San Diego, CA (August 25-29)

The WASH-Toxics-WG meeting was part of a special symposium, Water, Health, & Environmental Justice in Marginalized Communities that will address water and health challenges faced by poor and marginalized people in the US and abroad in the developing world.

This event presented investigations of the chemical and biological dimensions of water quality and the development of science and engineering approaches to advancing Environmental Justice and protecting public health in low-resource settings.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Water, Health, & Environmental Justice in Marginalized Communities

(Session A) Toxic Chemicals in Water

  • 8:00 Introductory Remarks.
  • 8:10 Is it time to move beyond the trihalomethane paradigm in developing countries? Lessons learned from wastewater-impacted drinking waters in South Asia. K. Furst, R. Coyte, D. Smith, J. Davis, A. Vengosh, W. Mitch
  • 8:35 Meta-analysis of nationwide loadings of pharmaceuticals to Indian aquatic and terrestrial environments from human excreta. V. Kelkar, J. Steele, R.U. Halden
  • 9:00 Flash Poster Session Poster presenters (see below) prepare a one-slide, simplified version of the poster – perhaps just a key graph or figure illustrating the most exciting result(s) and give a flash talk of <2 minutes. (Our official ENVR poster session is on Tuesday evening.)
  • 9:25 Developing biosensors for detecting pesticide traces in water for human use by marginalized communities. D. Bahamon-Pinzon, D. Vanegas, D.M. Hurtado-Chaves, A.M. Torres-Gonzalez, I. Velez-Torrez, E.S. McLamore
  • 9:50 Intermission.


(Session B) Sanitation and Wastewater Resource Recovery Technologies

  • 10:05 On-site Sanitation, Energy, and Food Nexus for Climate Justice. B. Hunter, M. Deshusses
  • 10:30 Going Viral: Emerging Opportunities for Phage-Based Bacterial Control in Water Treatment and Reuse. P. Yu, J. Mathieu, P. Zuo, P.J. Alvarez
  • 10:55 Life Cycle Economic and Environmental Assessment of Resource Recovery from an Agricultural Waste System in Costa Rica. K. Orner, M. Alvarez, X. Ramirez, P.K. Cornejo
  • 11:20 Light conducting photocatalytic membrane for low maintenance provision of safe water to marginalized communities. L.T. Nyamutswa, B. Zhu, D. Navaratna, S. Collins, K. Linden, M. Duke
  • 11:45 Discussion.


(Session C) Socio-Cultural and Economic Dimensions of Water and Health I

  • 1:30 Introductory Remarks.
  • 1:35 Water, sanitation and hygiene for people experiencing homelessness: A transdisciplinary approach for developing sustainable solutions for unhoused individuals. M. Welsh, S. Flanigan, M. Garcia, N. Mladenov, M.E. Verbyla
  • 2:00 Wastewater management issues in the rural Alabama Black Belt and a proposed path forward. K. White, M. Elliott, M.O. Barnett
  • 2:25 Engineering Justice in the Sanitation Value Chain: Socio-technical Responses to WASH Insecurity in Placencia, Belize. C. Wells, C. Prouty, C. Haberstroh, W. Webb, M.A. Trotz
  • 2:50 Systems-based, Community-Engaged Insights that Safeguard Health and Wastewater Management in Vulnerable Communities and Coastlines. C. Prouty, M. Trotz, Q. Zhang, D.A. Delgado, J.R. Mihelcic
  • 3:15 Intermission.


(Session D) Socio-Cultural and Economic Dimensions of Water and Health II

  • 3:30 Environmental justice and stormwater management: A Tampa case study towards multi-functional stormwater infrastructure in coastal communities of color. M.E. Carrasquillo, E. Ortiz Carabantes, M. Trotz
  • 3:55 Elemental contamination of Navajo unregulated water sources. J.M. Credo, L.M. Jones, J.C. Ingram
  • 4:20 Water, Health, and Environmental Justice in California’s Central Valley: Geospatial Analysis of Water Contamination and Health Disparities. C. Naughton
  • 4:45 Baseline Study Evaluating Water Quality and Microbial Ecology in Seven Alaskan Native Communities. N.B. Saleh, L. Rowles, M. Kirisits
  • 5:10 Discussion.
  • 5:25 Closing Remarks

EVENING of TUESDAY AUGUST 27: ENVR Division Poster Session

  • Inner city faith communities as educational hubs via urban water management Edith Kippenhan
  • Development of a pathogen flow model for risk-based sanitation safety planning and mapping. Matthew Verbyla, Isaac Musaazi
  • A Novel Community Engaged System Thinking Approach to Onsite Wastewater Treatment Management for Nutrient Pollution in the Belizean Cayes. Daniel Delgado
  • Rapid small-scale column test development for fluoride control using bone-char sorbents. Maggie Thompson
  • Water, Health, and Environmental Justice in the Central Valley of California: Geospatial Analysis of Nitrate Contamination and Health Disparities. Arianna Tariqi
  • Predicting per/polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) breakthrough in biochar water treatment using fluorescence and UV absorbance as surrogates. Myat Aung
  • Nanosensors and decision support models paired on a mobile device for establishing a participatory monitoring program on mercury exposure in rural Colombia. Victoria Morgan
  • Using Microbial Source Tracking and Antibiotic Resistance for Environmental Justice. Brandon Hunter



The 2017 Meeting of the WASH-Toxics Working Group was held at the International Society of Exposure Science Annual Conference in Research Triangle Park, NC, from 1-5 PM on October 16, 2017.

Symposium: Toxic chemical water contaminants in low and middle income countries

Download the program booklet
Session I: A global grand challenge for the WASH development sector

In recent decades rates of toxic chemical production and diversification, particularly within the developing world, have outpaced other major drivers of global environmental change. As a result, environmentally ubiquitous chemical pollutants such as pesticide runoff, pharmaceutical and personal care product residues, industrial effluents, manufacturing additives, disinfection byproducts, and substances deriving from the breakdown of consumer wastes increasingly impact water sources and threaten public health around the world. To-date, the water-sanitation hygiene (WASH) development sector has focused on microbiological threats to human health, but increasingly evidence suggests that toxic chemical exposures are a major contributor to global burden of disease.

Presenters will define the global scale and scope of toxic chemical exposures from water in low and middle income countries (LMICs), and set an agenda for applied research on mitigation technologies that protect public health and the environment.


Emily Bernhardt (Duke) “Synthetic chemicals as agents of global change”

Anna Aceituno (RTI) “Shifting exposures, shifting paradigms: global trends warrant a focus on chemical contaminants in the WASH Sector”

Donna Womack (RTI) “Minimizing potential groundwater and surface water exposures associated with agricultural practices”

Session I of this two-part symposium will address the global scale and scope of toxic chemical exposures from water in LMICs, and identify priority individual chemicals/chemical classes and regional “hotspots.” Josh Kearns (NCSU) will make brief introductory remarks, “The mission and objectives of the WASH-Toxics Working Group.” The session will include the annual open meeting of the WASH-Toxics Working Group. The meeting will review accomplishments of the Working Group during 2017 and will conduct an interactive group exercise for agenda setting in 2018.

Session II: Analytics, risk analysis, and mitigation strategies

Toxic chemical water pollution is often more severe in developing countries compared to affluent regions as many substances are produced, used, and disposed of throughout the developing world in an unregulated manner. Furthermore, communities in low and middle income countries (LMICs) are limited in their resources to adequately address the health impacts from toxic pollution, which further marginalizes those most in need. Advancements are urgently needed in laboratory analytics, field sensing through biomonitoring, risk analysis, and practically feasible yet affordable mitigation strategies. The challenges and constraints of LMICs are different from affluent regions and require robust yet fieldable analytical methods as well as scalable interventions that utilize local materials and capacities for sustainability. This session (Part II of two) will present field and laboratory analytical capabilities, risk analysis approaches to evaluating chemical hazards, and mitigation strategies and technologies applied in resource constrained LMIC settings.


Jennifer Hoponick Redmon (RTI) “Using a risk-based approach to rank toxic chemicals in drinking water to support prioritization of risk mitigation strategies in low resource settings”

Keith Levine (RTI) “Cost-effective, scalable field and laboratory approaches for quantitation of established and emerging chemicals in the environment”

Meththika Vithanage (Institute for Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka) “Municipal solid waste biochar for mitigation of carcinogenic VOCs in municipal-industrial landfill leachate”

Jamie DeWitt (ECU) “A potential never-ending story of chemical water pollution in LMICs: proliferation of legacy and replacement PFAS”

Matthew Bentley (CU-Boulder) “Activation of biochar adsorbents with base and ash leachates for the removal of organic micropollutants in low-cost water treatment”


The Inaugural Meeting of the WASH-Toxics Working Group was held at the Water and Health Conference at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, from 8:30 AM – Noon on October 12, 2016.
Controlling Toxic Chemicals in Drinking Water in Developing Communities:An Innovation Accelerator
Opening Remarks

Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program


Keynote Presentations

Chemical Pollution in Low- and Middle- Income Countries

Frederik Weiss, Eawag     [ presentation file ]     [ full document ]


E-Waste and Harm to Vulnerable Populations: A Growing Global Problem

Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., NIEHS


Technical Presentations

“Drinking Water Treatment and Refill Stations: decentralized, membrane-based modular water treatment in dense urban areas”

Laura Sima, Ph.D., Environmental Engineer, US Department of State

“Nanocomposite filters for sustainable point-of-use water treatment”     [ presentation file ]

Qammer Zaib, Ph.D., Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


“Local biochar adsorbent for control of herbicide in surface water – laboratory experiments and field experiences”     [ presentation file ]

Josh Kearns, ABD, Environmental Engineering, University of Colorado-Boulder

Presenter and Convener Bios
Keynote Presenters

Michelle Heacock is a program officer at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) for the Superfund Research Program (SRP), a grant program with a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the toxicity and risks of hazardous substances on human and environmental health. In her role in the NIEHS-WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health, she is the focus area co-lead for e-waste and children’s health. She received her doctorate from Texas A&M University for her work on the interplay between DNA repair proteins and telomeres, followed by a postdoc at the NIEHS investigating the causes and outcomes of cellular toxicity in response to DNA damaging agents.

Frederik Weiss is an interdisciplinary scientist, integrating environmental chemistry, toxicology and biology. He has a mater’s degree in environmental science from the Goethe University in Frankfurt Germany. Since 2013 he has worked at the Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries (Sandec) focusing on chemical pollutants in low-and middle-income countries. He is currently a PhD candidate in Environmental Chemistry at Eawag and ETHZ, conducting fieldwork on pesticides in the tropical Rio Tapezco Catchment in Costa Rica.

Technical Presenters

Laura Sima is an Adviser and environmental engineer at the Department of State. She has served as a Senior Climate Adviser at USAID, and a Postdoctoral fellow with the Environmental Health Sciences Department at Johns Hopkins University, where she worked on developing international criteria to measure water and sanitation development sustainability. She received her PhD in Environmental Engineering at Yale University, and her research interests have focused on WASH in urban areas.

Qammer Zaib successfully defended his PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering at Masdar Institute (Abu Dhabi) in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA) in July 2016. He is a chemical engineer by training and holds MS degrees in (i) Total Quality Management, (ii) Environmental Engineering, and (iii) Civil Engineering from University of the Punjab (Pakistan), Hanyang University South (Korea), and University of South Carolina (USA), respectively. His research interests include sustainable water treatment, nanotechnology, and material’s synthesis and characterization for specialized applications.


Anne Mikelonis is a research environmental engineer in the Office of Research and Development at the EPA. She works at EPA’s Durham office location in the Homeland Security Research Center where her current projects focus on the fate and transport of spores and cesium in stormwater. She received her PhD in Environmental Engineering from UT Austin in 2015 where her research focused on the adhesion of different types of silver nanoparticles to ceramic water filters.

Josh Kearns has a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry with a minor in Environmental Engineering from Clemson University, a master’s degree in Biogeochemistry from UC-Berkeley, and is ABD in Environmental Engineering from CU-Boulder (PhD expected December 2016). He has ten years’ intermittent experience working on appropriate technologies for community Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), primarily in Southeast Asia. His laboratory and field research develops low cost water treatment systems that incorporate biochar adsorbent for control of synthetic chemical pollutants.