41 million Americans didn’t expect to find pharmaceuticals mixed with their drinking water when the Associated Press conducted a study back in 2008, but pharmaceuticals like antibiotics and sex hormones were in there anyway. Although the amounts were miniscule, well within EPA-approved limits, the concentration of trace organic compounds (TOrCs) has increased in wastewater streams as more people rely on these products for everyday uses. Proper prescription drug disposal plays a key role, but because of concerns related to public and aquatic health, there is increasing interest in technology and legislation to evaluate occurrence and removal of TOrCs.
A Milwaukee study shows promise
In Milwaukee, Veolia North America announced study findings showing the successful removal of 75% of the pharmaceuticals and phosphorous from wastewater using the company's Actiflo® Carb technology. The technology’s relatively small footprint and reasonable cost allows it to be readily integrated into many existing wastewater treatment facilities.
Study findings conducted in Milwaukee show the successful removal of 75% of pharmaceuticals and phosphorous from wastewater.
The 8-week study, part of a multi-year partnership with a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), was granted with funding from the Water Environment Research Foundation and conducted by process engineers from Veolia and its subsidiary Kruger, Inc. with the support of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. You can read the full study here.
Reducing pharmaceuticals from the start
The best way to reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals in drinking water is to make sure that they’re never flushed down the toilet in the first place. Legislation passed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) takes steps to solve that problem. The DEA’s Final Rule for the Disposal of Controlled Substances was published at the end of last year and is written to make it easier to transfer controlled substances to people and organizations authorized to ensure proper disposal.
Before this Act was passed, there was very little that patients could do to eliminate unwanted controlled substances. Unwanted controlled substances could only be given to law enforcement, as doctors’ offices, hospitals and pharmacies were banned from accepting them. As a result, many people flushed unused drugs in the toilet or threw them away, sending them directly into the waste stream.
With the passage of the Act, certain DEA registrants (manufacturers, distributors, reverse distributors, narcotic treatment programs, retail pharmacies and hospitals/clinics with an on-site pharmacy) can modify their registration with the DEA to become authorized to set up collection sites, creating a new way for patients to get rid of unused pharmaceuticals and helping to keep the waterways safe. Several communities also organize safe disposal days – New York for instance has collected over 745 tons of harmful household products since 2012, much of it cleaning agents and unused medications, taking in these products at several collection events in city parks.
The concentration of these contaminants in wastewater is miniscule. But the use of technology and legislation that helps prevent the problem in the first place are effective first starts toward alleviating public concern.