Climate & Environment

Post-Doctoral Fellowships


Reducing the Impact of Climate-Induced Contamination of Water & Food on Human Health

This research project is one of the 8 projects selected following the call for proposals on Health Impact of Climate Change.

Expected start date:June-2023

Climate change will reduce volume and flow rate of natural source water, cause extreme rainfall events, and impact its quality by increasing the temperature and natural organic matter content. These factors are expected to reduce the efficacy of drinking water and wastewater treatment, ultimately increasing the flow of untreated water into rivers, one of our primary water sources. As a result, potentially toxic substances could remain in drinking water, and reclaimed wastewater could be reused for crop irrigation, posing a risk to human health from drinking water and food.

Among these potentially toxic substances, Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) are getting more and more attention as they may be released from materials in contact with water, and their spread within the water-food systems is poorly understood. CECs are often found at very low concentrations, making them difficult to measure, and their toxicity remains unclear. Furthermore, their impact on human health in the context of climate change is an even greater unknown. Therefore, it is essential to develop new approaches to manage and mitigate the risks posed by CECs to ensure the safety of the food and water supply.

During her AXA Fellowship at Politecnico di Milano, Dr. Beatrice Cantoni will develop new tools to predict climate-induced CEC exposure changes and evaluate the performance of new water treatment methods in collaboration with technologies and toxicological experts.

Combining experimental and modeling activities, Dr. Cantoni will assess the health risk of CEC's water and food contamination exposure under various climate change scenarios. This will reveal which water-food models have the highest expected CEC concentrations and are most climate-vulnerable, thus enabling the development of customized treatment methods. She will evaluate the performances of novel drinking water and wastewater treatment methods to remove CECs and avoid recontamination, such as using conventional adsorbents like activated carbon.

Many materials that are in contact with water and food, from water pipelines to food packaging, are potential sources of CECs. Dr. Cantoni will therefore, also develop experimental protocols to test recontamination caused by water-material interactions and create a detailed report on substances released by various materials and guidelines on suitable CEC absorbent materials. This will be a valuable contribution given that material certifications largely fail to provide detailed information on the presence of potentially hazardous substances.

Finally, Dr. Cantoni will analyze cost-benefit to compare potential mitigation plans. Thanks to the combination of different performance and fate modeling softwares, she will develop an integrated exposure model to predict CEC fate outcomes and human CEC exposure from drinking water and food. This large-scale modeling tool will consider regional differences, such as the climate change impacts on natural resources, the use of materials and practices, and consumer preferences for tap or bottled water. Dr. Cantoni’s results will increase preparedness by helping stakeholders define a roadmap to long-term resilience for society and the environment.

April 2023



Politecnico di Milano