Water treatment chemicals: Trends and challenges

Vitaly Gitis, Nicholas Hankins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The addition of water treatment chemicals has always been considered as a standard operation in water and wastewater treatment. The concentration of chemicals was usually kept to the minimum necessary to achieve a good quality of potable or otherwise treated water. A significant interruption to the status-quo occurred more than 20 years ago after a severe and highly publicized outbreak of Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts. The strategic planning after the outbreak was to shift from physical-chemical to physical treatment methods, such as membrane filtration and UV disinfection. As such, the new procedures were supposed to eliminate the threat of water contamination through a minor addition of chemicals. Such was the mistrust and disappointment with water treatment chemicals themselves. Indeed, water treatment technologies are now using novel physical treatment methods. Membranes largely replaced granular filtration, and UV is paving the way towards minimization or elimination of the use of classic disinfection chemicals, such as chlorine and its derivatives. Yet, far from the “high-tech” revolution in water treatment technologies actually reducing the use of chemicals, the latter has in fact been significantly increased. The “conventional” chemicals used for pre-treatment, disinfection, corrosion prevention, softening and algae bloom depression are all still in place. Furthermore, new groups of chemicals such as biocides, chelating agents and fouling cleaners are currently used to supplement them. These latter are the chemicals needed to protect the high-tech equipment, to optimize the treatment, and to clean the equipment between uses. The health effects of the new chemicals introduced into water are yet to be fully established. Typically, a higher treatment efficiency requires effective chemicals, yet these are not always environmentally friendly. It seems obvious that the “high-tech” revolution currently affects the sustainability of water resources, and certainly not in a completely positive way. In short, the adverse effects of the introduction of such a significant amount of treatment chemicals into our sources of water are yet to be evaluated.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)34-38
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Water Process Engineering
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • Coagulation
  • Flocculation
  • Sustainability
  • Ultrafiltration
  • Water treatment chemicals

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Process Chemistry and Technology
  • Biotechnology


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