25 Jul 2023
 | 25 Jul 2023

HydroFATE (v1): A high-resolution contaminant fate model for the global river system

Heloisa Ehalt Macedo, Bernhard Lehner, Jim Nicell, and Günther Grill

Abstract. Pharmaceuticals and household chemicals are neither fully consumed nor fully metabolized when routinely used by humans, thereby resulting in the emission of residues down household drains and into wastewater collection systems. Since treatment systems cannot entirely remove these substances from wastewaters, the contaminants from many households connected to sewer systems are continually released into surface waters. Furthermore, diffuse contributions of wastewaters from populations that are not connected to treatment systems can directly (i.e., through surface runoff) or indirectly (i.e., through soils and groundwater) contribute to contaminant concentrations in rivers and lakes. The unplanned and unmonitored release of such contaminants can pose important risks to aquatic ecosystems and ultimately human health. In this work, the contaminant fate model HydroFATE is presented which is designed to estimate the surface-water concentrations of domestically used substances for virtually any river in the world. The emission of compounds is calculated based on per capita consumption rates and population density. A global database of wastewater treatment plants is used to separate the effluent pathways from populations into treated and untreated, and to incorporate the contaminant pathways into the river network. The transport in the river system is simulated while accounting for processes of environmental decay in streams and in lakes. To serve as a preliminary performance evaluation and proof of concept of the model, the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole (SMX) was chosen, due to its widespread use and the availability of input and validation data. The comparison of modelled concentrations against a compilation of reported SMX measurements in surface waters revealed reasonable results despite inherent model uncertainties. A total of 390,000 km of rivers were predicted to have SMX concentrations that exceed environmental risk thresholds. Given the high spatial resolution of predictions, HydroFATE is particularly useful as a screening tool to identify areas of potentially elevated contaminant exposure and to guide where local monitoring and mitigation strategies should be prioritized.

Heloisa Ehalt Macedo et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1590', Anonymous Referee #1, 12 Aug 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Heloisa Ehalt Macedo, 27 Sep 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1590', Anonymous Referee #2, 25 Aug 2023
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Heloisa Ehalt Macedo, 27 Sep 2023
  • RC3: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1590', Francesco Bregoli, 28 Aug 2023
    • AC3: 'Reply on RC3', Heloisa Ehalt Macedo, 27 Sep 2023

Heloisa Ehalt Macedo et al.

Data sets

HydroFATE input and output data Heloisa Ehalt Macedo, Bernhard Lehner, Günther Grill, and Jim A. Nicell

Model code and software

HydroFATE python code Heloisa Ehalt Macedo, Bernhard Lehner, Günther Grill, and Jim A. Nicell

Heloisa Ehalt Macedo et al.


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Short summary
Pharmaceuticals and household chemicals released into surface waters through wastewater pose risks to aquatic ecosystems and human health. HydroFATE, a new global model, estimates contaminant concentrations in rivers, helping identify areas of elevated exposure. It predicted concentrations above ecological thresholds of the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole in 390,000 km of rivers worldwide. HydroFATE can guide monitoring and mitigation efforts to safeguard water systems and human well-being.