Water research institute (IRSA)

Research activities

Presently the main research-lines depicting IRSA activities, all falling within the current reference international context, are: aquatic ecosystems functioning and response to impacts, contaminants fate and effects, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, sludge and solid waste management, remediation of polluted aquifers and soils, sustainable management of water resources, groundwater-soil-rocks interactions. The ecosystems research-group investigates structural and functional aspects of aquatic ecosystems to understand how different communities: relate to habitat characteristics, react to external pressures and interact with the biogeochemical cycles, deepening cause-effect relationships. Such studies are at the basis of the ecological classification required by the WFD 2000/60/EC. The contaminants-group: studies transformation processes affecting pollutants during their transport inside environmental compartments and remote areas; interprets field-monitoring data; develops transport and ecological models. The group also investigate eco-toxicological effects of pollutants, biomarkers responding to specific classes of contaminants and analytical methods. The wastewater-group develops innovative treatment technologies (ITT) featured by reduced footprint and energy consumptions and low production of: GHG, sludge and byproducts. Such ITT are also aimed at both: removing new toxic and persistent chemicals to achieve the "priority pollutants zero emissions" goal (Directives 2000/60/EC and 2008/105/CE) and mitigating the adverse effects of climate changes on water resources availability by reusing municipal and industrial wastewaters. The sludge group works on waste recovery, valorization of waste and wastewater content, waste classification and related risk codes, in compliance with the Directive 2008/98/CE. Minimization of landfill disposal after complete recovery of the economically available resources and waste traceability procedures are also investigated. The remediation-group carries out activities for cleaning contaminated sites (groundwater and soil) by in situ bioremediation technologies, which avoid handling and moving large amounts of material and are less invasive than traditional dig & dump or pump & treat technologies. During such studies, advanced molecular methods for characterizing mixed biomass have been successfully set up. The management-group aims at the integrated water resources management through the development of suitable hydrological models and availability-demand models. Core activities include procedures to mitigate drought under water stress conditions, criteria to solve multiple contrasting uses of water resources (including impact of climate change), methodologies for evaluating artificial recharge, optimizing monitoring networks and models reproducing transport of pollutants. The groundwater-group studies the migration of pollutants through unsaturated and saturated porous media and water-exchanges between aquifers and surface waters. Hydrogeological, geochemical, chemical and microbiological processes responsible for pollutants attenuation are also studied together with natural background concentrations of chemicals in aquifers.
In terms of productivity, scientific advancements and technological innovations, groups involved in developing: sequencing batch biofilter granular reactor; two phase partitioning bioreactor; advanced oxidation processes; advanced molecular methods for characterizing mixed biomass are worth to be mentioned.
Given its broad spectrum of competences, IRSA provides services, in terms of advisory and professional activities, to several stakeholders, public as well as private, among which national security forces committed to contrast environmental crimes. Several laws explicitly refer to IRSA as reference Institute for the Ministry of Environment. IRSA is official member in many EC research-planning, decision-making and regulatory groups and organizations.