Harmful chemicals such as alcohol ethoxylates (AEOs) and pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) have polluted aquatic systems in Europe and the United States for decades. The EU-funded project 'Behaviour and distribution of emerging pollutants in aquatic systems' (Badepas) investigated their presence in Spanish and United States coastal systems as test beds to assess contamination risks. The project successfully optimised extraction and purification techniques for PhACs, in addition to documenting environmental distribution of target compounds including contact with groundwater. It is currently studying how AEOs and PhACs react with sewage in lab experiments. The study involves 70 PhACs including antibiotics, analgesics and psychiatric drugs, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive substances among many others. After Badepas examined sewage interaction by factoring in tidal ebbs in coastal areas, it found that over 30 pharmaceuticals showed up in water samples with the most common being analgesics. Project experiments have also revealed that AEOs remain in the soil but migrate slowly to the bottom, reaching deeper than 1.75 metres and possibly contaminating groundwater. In addition, the project is close to completing a study on transport, sorption and biodegradation processes for PhACs and AEOs in sediments and aquifers. It has already found that degradation of AEOs is more than 95 % although some seem to disappear faster than others. Results from this far-reaching project provide much better knowledge on the behaviour of AEOs and PhACs, particularly with respect to emerging contaminants in aquatic systems. This will support development of better environmental policies and guide manufacturers in minimising the impact of their environmental products. As a result, the benefits on human health and quality of life in affected communities will be improved.