Artificial Sweeteners as emergent contaminants in the environment: can constructed wetlands remove these compounds from water?

Background: Artificial sweeteners, although having a long tradition as safe food additives, are a newly recognized class of environmental emergent contaminants due to their extreme persistence and ubiquitous occurrence in various aquatic ecosystems (1). As a result of the widely use of artificial sweeteners, compounds like acesulfame, cyclamate, saccharin and sucralose are being detected in effluents from wastewater treatment systems as well as in rivers, lakes and groundwater around the world (2). Effluents from wastewater treatment systems are currently the major source of several different emerging micro-pollutants, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products and artificial sweeteners (3). Artificial sweeteners are marketed as metabolically inert sugar substitutes. However, they are not entirely inert and can be degraded in the environment. artificial sweeteners in the aquatic environment can affect the normal biological functions in the ecosystems (e.g. photosynthesis and feeding behaviour of zooplanktons) (1). Therefore, development of innovative approaches that ensure an efficient removal of artificial sweeteners from water is important.

Constructed wetlands (CWs) comprise a suit of well-accepted eco-technologies designed and constructed to mimic and manipulate the complex processes occurring in natural wetlands for the purpose of wastewater treatment (4). The CW technology is an eco-friendly technology with many of the characteristics of green technologies such as a low use of non-renewable energy resources and a low or negative climate impact. Furthermore, CWs provide a multitude of other functions such biodiversity, habitat, climatic, hydrological and public use functions. Constructed wetland systems can remove pharmaceuticals and personal care products from wastewater (5). However, the ability of CWs to remove artificial sweeteners is unknown.

Methods: Several project options are available within this research topic including (1) theoretical short-term projects based on literature studies (Biological Project, BSc and MSc), and (2) projects including practical work involving the setup and monitoring of removal of selected artificial sweeteners in CW mesocom setups in the laboratory and/or in existing full-scale systems (MSc).

Starting time: The projects can be started any time from now on.

Supervision: The projects will be supervised by Senior Researcher Carlos A. Arias and Prof. Hans Brix from Section for Aquatic Biology, Department of Biology.

Contact: Carlos Alberto Arias and Hans Brix

The project proposal has been submitted 02.11.2020.


1. Sang, Z., Jiang, Y., Tsoi, Y.-K.and Leung, K.S.-Y. (2014). Evaluating the environmental impact of artificial sweeteners: A study of their distributions, photodegradation and toxicities. - Water Research 52, 260-274.

2. Spoelstra, J., Schiff, S.L.and Brown, S.J. (2013). Artificial Sweeteners in a Large Canadian River Reflect Human Consumption in the Watershed. - PLoS ONE, (2013); 8: e82706.

3. Loos, R., Carvalho, R., António, D.C., Comero, S., Locoro, G., Tavazzi, S., et al. (2013). EU-wide monitoring survey on emerging polar organic contaminants in wastewater treatment plant effluents. -Water Research 47: 6475-6487.

4. Brix, H. (1994). Use of constructed wetlands in water pollution control: Historical development, present status, and future perspectives. - Water Science and Technology 30: 209-223.

5. Matamoros, V., Arias, C., Brix, H.and Bayona, J.M. (2009); Preliminary screening of small-scale domestic wastewater treatment systems for removal of pharmaceutical and personal care products. - Water Research 43: 55-62.