EGU23-5660, updated on 10 Jan 2024
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Regional Scale Modelling of Pharmaceutical Pollution in Rivers by Integrating Rural and Urban Sources

Francesco Bregoli1,2, Leo Posthuma2,3, Nikola Rakonjac4, Caterina Zillien2, Peter Vermeiren2, Erwin Roex5, Sjoerd van der Zee4, Erwin Meijers6, and Ad Ragas2
Francesco Bregoli et al.
  • 1Department of Water Resources and Ecosystems, IHE Delft institute for Water Education, Delft, Netherlands (
  • 2Department of Environmental Science, Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands
  • 3National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Centre for Sustainability, Environment and Health, Bilthoven, The Netherlands
  • 4Soil Physics and Land Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands
  • 5National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Centre for Zoonoses and Environmental Microbiology, Bilthoven, The Netherlands
  • 6Deltares, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) can threaten aquatic ecosystems and human health. Both rural and urban areas are main sources of CECs to the environment. In rural areas, veterinary pharmaceuticals (VPs) are used to prevent diseases and protect the health of farm animals. The excrements of medicated animals are spread as manure to agricultural lands, where, after rainfall, VPs can be mobilized and reach surface waters through runoff. In urban areas, pharmaceuticals excreted by humans are collected in sewage systems and are only partially removed in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Eventually, pharmaceuticals can reach surface waters through discharge of WWTP effluent. Currently, most of the predictive models only consider one source type, e.g. WWTPs or agricultural land. This limits their prediction performance since many CECs are being emitted by multiple source types. Therefore, the aim of this study is to integrate urban and rural sources of CECs in one regional water quality assessment.

Here, we predicted the concentration of CECs in the Eem river basin, the Netherlands, given land-use data combined with hydrological modeling. This allows for integrated evaluation of rural and urban emissions. These emissions were predicted with models developed within the context of the SUSPECt project ( CECs exposures were predicted with the Dutch National Water Quality Model where WWTPs emissions were included as point sources and rural emissions as diffuse sources. The temporal resolution of the model hydrology is seasonal. This is key to analyze the temporal variation of concentration due to manuring of agricultural lands which mainly occurs in Spring.

Predicted concentrations were successfully compared to measured concentrations taken in the SUSPECt project and from the database of the KIWK project ( for 6 compounds: carbamazepine and fipronil (only urban sources) and trimethoprim, sulfamethoxazole, permethrin and dexamethasone (urban and rural sources).

How to cite: Bregoli, F., Posthuma, L., Rakonjac, N., Zillien, C., Vermeiren, P., Roex, E., van der Zee, S., Meijers, E., and Ragas, A.: Regional Scale Modelling of Pharmaceutical Pollution in Rivers by Integrating Rural and Urban Sources, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 23–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-5660,, 2023.