Water pollution: evaluating and protecting water quality

Sources of aquatic pollution are varied and often unexpected. They can include cosmetics, household products, pesticides, drugs, electronic components, etc. It is a long list. If water from urban, domestic, agricultural or industrial environments is returned to the natural environment without being treated, the good ecological status of our waterways is threatened. 

Evaluating the status of our rivers: measuring tools

Passive samplers: “spies” that track micropollutants


Put into rivers, they continuously capture pesticides, herbicides and insecticides during the exposure period. They are used to estimate average levels of contamination. Two types of samplers are used. The first, p-SBSE, contains a magnet which detects hydrophilic pesticides (drugs, pesticides, etc.) while the second, POCIS, is a disk fitted with a membrane that detects hydrophobic pesticides. Measurements are taken in the laboratory.

Discover PACSiR, a patented new composite material used to analyze a wide variety of molecules (organic, hydrophilic, hydrophobic, etc.) in a single step. 


Sampling exercise in the Parisian basin

Since 2012, the Seine river basin has been the subject of an ecological and ecotoxicological monitoring pilot study. Irstea researchers are using a range of regulatory and innovative tools to comprehensively and concretely assess the quality of the watercourses studied.


Bioindicators: Irstea supports public policy

Scientific teams are developing bioindicators and participating in the transfer of methods to operators. An example using aquatic plants.


A new generation of bioindicators working on a microbial scale

Applying ecotoxicology to aquatic microbe communities is opening up new opportunities to evaluate the quality of aquatic environments. Two Irstea teams are specializing in this emerging field and have developed an original method.


BIOMAE, a laboratory start-up

A scud couple

Scuds are small, invertebrate, freshwater shrimp that live in our rivers and are sensitive to contaminants. They are a good indicator of the presence and impact of toxic substances in our aquatic environments.


Identifying priority areas to reduce the impact of products in rivers and catchment areas

© Irstea / OnemaIrstea has created a method known as ARPEGES (Analysis of Pesticide Risk for Water Management) that can be used to identify which bodies of water are at significant risk of pesticide contamination, as well as the main causes of this risk (using too many pesticides, type of river basin).

Applied to an entire river basin, the method takes into account the use of phytosanitary products using surveys on cropping practices, product consumption using the national database of phytopharmaceutical product sales, the properties of substances alone and mixed together and the vulnerability of water bodies.


The contamination risk results are presented as a “decision” that corresponds to the risk level. This method could also be used at a regional level and as a decision-making support tool, for example to test various overarching policies (development of buffer zones, development of pesticide usage, riverbank management, etc.).


Catchment area: the area of land in which any rainwater is likely to flow into a body of water, regardless of how it is transferred.

Several drinking water catchments have poor water quality. To protect catchment areas, Irstea is working to map the most sensitive plots to target any eventual fieldwork. For example, Irstea has worked on the headwaters of the Vigne, which have been used to provide drinking water to Paris since the 19th century. Around 30,000 square meters of water are taken by Eau de Paris from 7 abstraction points. In 2009, these sources were given “priority catchment” status, which involves creating an action plan to limit diffuse pollution, including pesticides. Irstea mapped the most sensitive plots and identified the way in which pollution spreads towards the catchment points. We found that these plots were not necessarily located next to the catchment point, but that it was better to intervene upstream from the basin.


Water purification: studying the cleaning efficiency of vegetated treatment areas

Inauguration of a new experimental biostation

A meadow-like planted discharge area on the experimental site at Bègles © Irstea / J-M. Choubert

The challenge is to evaluate the effectiveness of vegetated treatment areas located near wastewater treatment plants as anti-pollution devices to improve the quality of water returned to the environment.


Using environmental engineering to trap pesticides using nature 

Water pollution: restoring natural water quality

Imagine if the natural landscape could be responsible for purifying and improving water quality. With environmental engineering, this utopia is now a reality.


Environmental engineering & aquatic environments: a winning duo

Irstea has contributed its expertise to a book coordinated by the Scientific and Technical Association for Water and the Environment (ASTEE).


Cleaning up agricultural water: an innovative pond brings together regional stakeholders

Since 2005, researchers at Irstea and local stakeholders in Rampillon have worked together to create an artificial wetland buffer zone, an innovative approach located between the land and the river. This is a great example of regional cooperation.


[Video] Rampillon: the water that cleans itself

Rampillon Pool

A Universcience TV documentary.


A technical guide on the implementation of artificial wetland buffer zones

In partnership with Onema, Irstea has published the first technical guide on the implementation of artificial wetland buffer zones. The aim was to share our knowledge and experience on 5 wetland zones, including the pilot site in Rampillon.