2016 brought to LIFE the project “Improving current barriers for controlling pharmaceutical compounds in urban wastewater treatment plants”, one of the six Portuguese projects co-funded by the European Commission under the 2014 call of LIFE Environment programme.

Led by LNEC – National Civil Engineering Laboratory, LIFE Impetus has 7 Associated Beneficiaries: 3 water utilities (AdA, AdTA, EPAL), 1 SME (EHS) and 3 academic institutions (FCUL, FFUL, UAlg):

  • LNEC - Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil, IP
  • AdA - Águas do Algarve, SA
  • AdTA - Águas do Tejo Atlântico, SA
  • EPAL - Empresa Portuguesa das Águas Livres, SA
  • EHS - Environment and Regional Development Consulting, Lda
  • FCUL - Faculty of Sciences of Lisbon University
  • FFUL - Faculty of Pharmacy of Lisbon University
  • UAlg - University of Algarve




Pharmaceutical compounds (PhCs) are emerging contaminants of environmental-health concern that, if not controlled, could adversely affect drinking water sources and reuse projects, two key issues of sustainable water management.

To develop water reuse and ensure the preservation of drinking water supplies and receiving water bodies in Europe, it is thus important to eliminate these compounds during wastewater treatment. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are crucial barriers against PhCs, but many of these compounds are resistant to conventional treatments. In the logic of resource efficiency, cost-effective solutions based on existing infrastructure (many of them recently built) are essential, as new investments are limited in the near future due to economic constraints.




LIFE Impetus aims at demonstrating measures for improving PhC removal in urban WWTPs with conventional activated sludge (CAS) treatment. As CAS is the most common biological process in urban WWTPs, the solutions may be easily transferred to wastewater treatment across Europe.

The project involves long term field tests in two Portuguese CAS-WWTPs in water stressed regions (Lisbon and Algarve), focusing on performance assessment, using benchmarking tools, and chemical enhancement measures easily implementable in the current treatment lines. The project will thus provide, for several scenarios of European wastewater quality, the guidelines for reliable and sustainable improvement of PhC removal in CAS-WWTPs while maximising energy efficiency. New adsorbents from local vegetal wastes and biopolymer coagulants will be benchmarked against high-performing commercial products.

A complementary objective is to produce valuable knowledge for water resource protection from PhCs and associated environmental policy. This includes PhC occurrence and concentration, control in WWTPs, bacterial antibiotic resistance and PhC bioaccumulation in clams, a key product in many local economies in the Algarve and elsewhere in Europe.