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Governing the Invisible: Policy Approaches to Micropollutants in Water

On 13 and 14 November 2019, a workshop on the governance of micropollutants in waters will take place at the International Academic Forum Heidelberg.

Micropollutants are chemical substances present in very small concentrations (ng/L to μg/L) in waters due to anthropogenic activities. After their usage, micropollutants end up in wastewater and enter surface waters without being completely filtered in sewage treatment plants. Concentrations of micropollutants in surface waters have increased in the last decades, partly due to increasing consumption of pharmaceuticals and agricultural intensification.

Various scientific disciplines have conducted research on micropollutants in waters in the past. Biologists and ecotoxicologists have investigated potential negative effects of micropollutants on the aquatic ecosystem, toxicologists have examined potential effects on human health, and engineers have explored new filtration techniques to reduce the entry of micropollutants into waters. Due to these efforts, policymakers in some European countries have paid increasing attention to micropollutants and initiated a 'top-down' political process.

As the topic is now on the political agenda, the governance of micropollutants comes into play. Contamination by micropollutants represents a complex problem that challenges policymakers in their efforts to find adequate solutions since there are several unanswered political questions. This, in turn, makes it especially interesting to study from a social science perspective. To date, empirical studies analyzing the policy field from this perspective are scarce and several research gaps remain.

This workshop aims at bringing together researchers with different disciplinary backgrounds and an interest in the governance of micropollutants for water quality protection. By means of an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas, the aim is to outline remaining research gaps, discuss research questions and prepare the ground for future research collaborations. The format will be open to discussion at the workshop.

The workshop will be organized by Simon Schaub (Institute of Political Science, Heidelberg University) and Dr. Sanam Vardag (Heidelberg Center for the Environment, Heidelberg University).


Participation in the workshop is free of charge. Participants only have to cover accomodation and travel expenses. If you are interested in attending the event, please send a short abstract (about half a page) where you sketch research questions and topics related to micropollutants you are interested in. In case you have already conducted some research on water governance, you can also add a few sentences about your work. The abstract should also include your name, position and affiliation. Please apply via email by sending your abstract to Simon Schaub (simon.schaub∂ipw.uni-heidelberg.de) by 15 September 2019 at the latest.