A review of threats to groundwater quality in the anthropocene

Awareness concerning sustainable groundwater consumption under the context of land use and climate change is gaining traction, raising the bar for adequate understanding of the complexities of natural and anthropogenic processes and how they affect groundwater quality. The heterogeneous characteristics of aquifers have hampered comprehensive source, transport and contaminant identification. As questions remain about the behavior and prediction of well-known groundwater contaminants, new concerns around emerging contaminants are on the increase. This review highlights some of the key contaminants that originate from anthropogenic activities, organized based on land use categories namely agricultural, urban and industrial. It further highlights the extensive overlap, in terms of both provenance as well as contaminant type, between the different land use sectors. A selection of case studies from literature that describe the continued concern of established contaminants, as well as new and emerging compounds, are presented to illustrate the many qualitative threats to global groundwater resources. In some cases, the risk of groundwater contamination lacks adequate gravity, while in others the underlying physical and societal processes are not fully understood and activities may commence without adequately considering potential impacts. In the agricultural context, the historic and current application of fertilizers and plant protectants, use of veterinary pharmaceuticals and hormones, strives to safeguard the growing food demands. In the context of a sprawling urban environment, waste, human pharmaceuticals, and urban pesticide outputs are increasing, with adequate runoff and sanitation infrastructure often lagging. Finally, industrial activities are associated with accidental leaks and spills, while the large-scale storage of industrial byproducts has led to legacy contaminants such as those stemming from raw mineral extraction. With this review paper, we aim to underscore the need for transdisciplinary research, along with transboundary communication, using sound science and adaptive policy and management practice in order to procure sustainable groundwater quality.

Burri N. M., Weatherl R., Moeck C., Mario Schirmer
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Research Article