In order to ensure the sustainability of potable water, wastewater treatment plants continuously work to treat and return clean water back into our waterways and safely into the environment. It’s a mutually beneficial process for wildlife and our drinking water supply. Using advanced technology, wastewater treatment plants separate and remove harmful waste to purify water.
While these plants are effective at removing harmful, organic waste, a challenge that has presented itself in the past 30 years is how to cost-effectively and efficiently remove chemical compounds that derive from pharmaceuticals in wastewater.
Numerous reports have surfaced in the last 15 years about pharmaceutical chemicals being found in waterways and drinking water supplies. Whereas the effects of these chemicals have been minimal to human consumption, adverse effects have been identified in aquatic wildlife surrounding these waterways.
In the United States, pharmaceuticals in drinking and wastewater are less of a problem than in other countries with higher population densities and lower access to drinking water. However, according to a Consumer Reports survey in 2017, the U.S. remains a highly medicated country, with 55 percent of Americans regularly taking prescription medicine.
The number of prescriptions filled has almost doubled in the past 25 years, from 2.4 billion in 1997 to 4.5 billion in 2016. While having access to affordable medication has helped the health of many U.S. citizens, it has caused an increase in the amount of unused or outdated prescriptions we throw away.
Pharmaceutical chemicals can end up in water from a variety of sources. Three significant contributors are pharmaceutical manufacturers, human or animal excrement and improper disposal of medication.
Improper disposal of drugs. A common way to dispose of drugs is by flushing them down the toilet. Although this may seem like an easy solution, the environmental repercussions should not be ignored.
As the problem of pharmaceuticals in wastewater becomes more prevalent, methods of removing these substances are being explored.
Although wastewater facilities are designed to handle biological compounds and organic matter, chemicals do not break down as well because they are more stable and non-biodegradable.
The three most common methods of chemical removal are:
One of the new methods of treatment is the electrochemical advanced oxidation process (EAOP). This process uses electricity as a catalyst to generate mixed oxidants that can oxidize pollutants to a trace amount while creating less harsh chemicals as a byproduct.
While pharmaceutical companies and wastewater treatment plants are working on solutions to remove these chemicals, there are things you can do to lower the pharmaceuticals in the environment.
Are you looking for expert water and wastewater operations and management to offer solutions for the expanding challenges water utilities face? Contact Alliance Water Resources to find out how we can optimize your water and wastewater operations.