Department Environmental Social Sciences

Micropollutants Regulation and Management

The Environmental Social Sciences Department (ESS) aims at understanding how individuals, households, public and private entities react to uncertainties related to micropolluntants in water bodies. More specifically, we wish to understand how different individuals and actors perceive the risks of micropolluntants and evaluate different technical measures and policy options to regulate micropollutants. Besides a regional and national perspective, we also aim at studying the regulation of micropollutants across borders and countries.

Prof. Dr. Karin IngoldGroup leader, Cluster: PEGOTel. +41 58 765 5676Send Mail


Micropollutants are organic trace compounds or heavy metals which occur in the aquatic environment at very low concentrations. They are brought into waters through various entry paths and sectors such as industry, agriculture or households. Human activities such as farming, industrial production, cleaning, medicine (pharmaceuticals) or hygiene are thus at the source of micropollutants in aquatic ecosystems.

Micropollutants can enter water bodies via point sources (e.g. overflows from wastewater treatment plants) or diffuse sources (e.g. run-off from agricultural or urban areas). At the Environmental Social Sciences Department, we do not conceive micropollutants as a purely technical issue, but mainly as a social one. The core question is not how micropollutants can be eliminated but how individuals and the society can live with the unavoidable uncertainty related to micropollutants and what measures are perceived as adequate or sufficient for dealing with the problem.

Typical problems and research questions

In collaboration with natural scientists at Eawag, three core topics and approaches concerning the management and regulation of micropollutants were identified. These will be the main focus of mid-term research at ESS. The topics are listed along with some typical research questions:

Uncertainty, communication and public perception:

  • How are potential problems and risks related to micropollutants in water perceived by the public?
  • How can “scientific uncertainty” with respect to the effects of micropollutants be communicated?
  • What are the stakeholders’ preferences in the face of scientific uncertainty?

Designing national and transboundary micropollution regulation:

  • What tradeoffs exist between taking measures at the source and regulating micropollutants via an upgrade of wastewater treatment plants (end-of-pipe approach)?
  • How to design transboundary water management within cantons and across countries?
  • What are important objectives and preferences of stakeholders concerning micropollutants in water bodies (and their removal or avoidance)?
  • Which technical measures or policy options best meet these objectives? In the case of conflicting objectives, can compromise solutions be suggested?

Economic perspective and household survey

  • How much are Swiss households willing to pay for upgrading wastewater treatment plants to reduce micropollutants in water?
  • Is the investment into measures for reducing micropollutants economically justified based on the cost-benefit analysis?


Prof. Dr. Karin IngoldGroup leader, Cluster: PEGOTel. +41 58 765 5676Send Mail
Dr. Judit LienertGroup Leader, Cluster: DA (Decision Analysis)Tel. +41 58 765 5574Send Mail
Dr. Ivana LogarGroup Leader, Cluster: EnvEcoTel. +41 58 765 5504Send Mail
Dr. Christian StammDeputy Head of DepartmentTel. +41 58 765 5565Send Mail
Ruth ScheideggerTel. +41 58 765 5502Send Mail
Prof. Dr. Max MaurerTel. +41 58 765 5386Send Mail
Prof. Dr. Roy BrouwerTel. +41 58 765 5504Send Mail
Dr. Christoph OrtGroup LeaderTel. +41 58 765 5277Send Mail
Dr. Christa McArdellSenior scientist / group leaderTel. +41 58 765 5483Send Mail
Dr. Nele SchuwirthHead of Department, Group leader Ecological ModellingTel. +41 58 765 5528Send Mail

Prof. Dr. Beate Escher
Helmholtz Zentrum für Umweltforschung UFZ
Send Mail

Florence Metz, University of Berne

H. Bresser, UTwente

M. Lubeli, UDavis

F. Varone, UGeneva


Logar, I.; Brouwer, R.; Maurer, M.; Ort, C. (2014) Cost-benefit analysis of the Swiss national policy on reducing micropollutants in treated wastewater, Environmental Science and Technology, 48(21), 12500-12508, doi:10.1021/es502338j, Institutional Repository
Metz, F.; Ingold, K. (2014) Sustainable wastewater management: is it possible to regulate micropollution in the future by learning from the Past? A policy analysis, Sustainability, 6(4), 1992-2012, doi:10.3390/su6041992, Institutional Repository
Brouwer, R.; Logar, I.; Sheremet, O. (2017) Choice consistency and preference stability in test-retests of discrete choice experiment and open-ended willingness to pay elicitation formats, Environmental and Resource Economics, 68(3), 729-751, doi:10.1007/s10640-016-0045-z, Institutional Repository

Logar, I., Brouwer, R. (2017). The effect of risk communication on choice behavior, welfare estimates and choice certainty. Water Resources and Economics, In press,

Current projects

Effective design of micropollution regulation
This project addresses the question of which factors explain governments’ choice of instrument selection, applied to micropollution regulation in the Rhine river basin.

Completed projects

The main objective of this research is to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of water quality improvement through upgrading of wastewater treatment plants in Switzerland.
Removal of pharmaceuticals from hospital wastewater is well accepted by stakeholders if trade-off between good performance of an option and its costs is reasonable.