How to estimate environmental persistence : Understanding persistence of organic micropollutants in rivers from a multidisciplinary perspective

Sammanfattning: Organic micropollutants such as food additives, pharmaceuticals and personal care products are found in rivers worldwide. Persistence is a key criteria in chemical risk assessment as micropollutants that are persistent pose an exposure hazard to humans and the environment. As biodegradation is the most relevant removal process for many micropollutants in rivers, persistence assessment relies on the estimation of the biodegradation half-life.  This thesis presents new approaches to understand the biodegradation of organic pollutants in rivers.The application of Junge relationships (previously established for atmospheric pollutants), to river systems, was investigated in paper I to assess if biodegradation half-lives in the Danube river are correlated with variability in measured concentrations. Model scenarios show Junge relationships could potentially be found in measurements performed near the mouth of the river, but Junge relationships were not found in currently available monitoring data. In paper II an experimental design and response surface model were developed to study the effect of hyporheic exchange (induced by flowing water) and bacterial diversity in sediment on dissipation half-lives of two micropollutants in flumes. Faster dissipation was observed in flumes with high bacterial diversity and higher hyporheic exchange, and thus both variables are relevant to study dissipation processes in rivers. The influence of biological factors beyond bacteria diversity is explored in papers III and IV, by characterizing the bacteria community composition of sediment in OECD 308 bottle incubations (a standard test that is often recommended in risk assessment guidelines). In paper III, higher variation in half-lives (e.g. relative standard deviations > 50%) were found for micropollutants with longer half-lives (e.g. from 40 to more than 120 days). Higher variation in half-lives also corresponded to differences in bacteria community composition and specifically to increased or decreased abundance of certain bacteria genera. Although the exact bacteria genera involved in the biodegradation of the micropollutants cannot be determined in papers II or III, our results suggest bacteria community composition and diversity should be considered in the interpretation of biodegradation half-lives since they are related to variability in biodegradation and to understand extrapolation from laboratory to the field. Finally in paper IV, it is investigated if the bacteria communities are affected by the OECD 308 test conditions. Changes in the bacteria communities in the sediment between the initial river community, the beginning and the end of the incubation, at high and a low concentrations are reported. Overall, 8% of bacteria genera increased or decreased in relative abundance in all comparisons, and it is unclear if these small changes in bacteria communities could have had an effect on the observed half-lives in paper III.This thesis contributes to the understanding of physical and biological factors influencing biodegradation and potential implications for risk assessment of organic micropollutants in rivers.