Modern medical science offers effective solutions to an increasing number of health problems, and in most cases they take the form of medications. Pills make our pain go away, they improve our quality of life and aid our recovery. But, unfortunately, the effects of their active ingredients do not stop there.
In recent decades, the quantity of pharmaceutical products marketed worldwide has been growing significantly. But what exactly is the fate of those medications? We take them, the active compounds are absorbed by our bodies, they reach their ’target areas’ and exert their effects. But a part of the active compounds we consume pass through our bodies unchanged.
Those components end up either in the sewer system, or directly in the soil. Sometimes drugs beyond their use by dates are also discarded in the household waste or the toilet. But they are not destroyed there, either: they continue along the sewer system. In Hungary, communal wastewater is treated, so those pipelines usually terminate at a wastewater treatment plant.
The specialist journal Environmental Science and Technology has been publishing studies about the levels of pharmaceutical drugs in the effluent of wastewater treatment plants for a decade now. The further purification of treated wastewater focused on the elimination of pharmaceuticals was also a priority theme at the 17th International Conference on Chemistry and the Environment held in June 2019 in Thessaloniki.
The water released from those plants into our environment contains various concentrations of all the pharmaceutical active ingredients that are consumed by the communities that the plants serve. The treated wastewater may then return those drugs to living surface waters and underground waters – that is the indication of the latest results from the research conducted at the Geographical Institute of the Astronomy and Earth Science Research Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Science.
Despite the continuous development of wastewater treatment technologies, the complete removal of synthetic pharmaceuticals using the three-step method currently in use is yet to be achieved. A number of researchers are working to improve the efficiency of the removal of these molecules from the present value of 10 to 30 percent.
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This astonishing video is about the creation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is twice the size of the state of Texas.
On 11 March 2011, Japan suffered a magnitude 9 earthquake, which also impacted the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Since then, more than a million tonnes of radioactive water has been collected from the damaged cooling system of the plant, but the tanks will be filled to capacity by 2022.
The set of problems around pharmaceutical residues is extremely complex: the active compounds that are released can reach not only drinking water but also our food. Luckily, scientists have started investigating the problem, and the development of technologies able to offer a solution is also under way.
The active ingredients of various medicines are released into the environment with treated and untreated wastewater, and today they can be detected not only in surface waters but also in underground waters and the soil. But what defensive measures can we take against them? Hundreds of research groups are studying that question worldwide.
Data from the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme indicates that between 2011 and 2017, almost five thousand marine mammals were stranded around the shores of the UK.
Nine of the ten most common types of seaside waste are related to human food and drink consumption.
More and more pharmaceutical drugs are sold each year, which, along with their benefits, have their disadvantages, too: some of the active ingredients are discharged from our bodies unchanged and they end up polluting our natural waters. Our current knowledge suggests that this does not carry a significant health risk, but as we do not know the long-term effects of the process, it is a problem for which we must find a solution in the near future, for instance by introducing new technologies.
Three design students in Taiwan teamed up to create the Polluted Water Popsicles project so as to call attention to the increasing level of water pollution caused by the country’s economic growth and urbanisation.