Preventing water crises
Küldés e-mailben Facebook Twitter Nyelvváltás
Preventing water crises

Scientists on the trail of pharmaceutical residues

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.

Specialists in the field have detected pharmaceutical residues in many locations in our environment.
It is a scientifically proven fact that some of those may represent apparently serious risks for living organisms even in very low concentrations.

For instance carbamezapine, a popular anticonvulsant used for the treatment of epilepsy, has a detectable effect on the reproduction of toads: the number of offspring remains the same,
but they become smaller.

Although for the time being these molecules are only present in very small concentrations in both water and soils/sediments, the environmental concentration of some active ingredients is growing rather fast.

Back in the first half of the 2000s, the Poseidon project financed by the European Union already established that, due to the growth of the pharmaceutical industry and human factors such as increasing longevity and the growing use of pharmaceuticals across all age groups, various active ingredients were present in our surface waters in small concentrations.

As analytical methods develop, an increasing number of active ingredients can be detected in environmental samples in ever lower quantities, in recent years, we have become aware of an exceedingly complex environmental issue that will present a serious challenge in the future – warn experts at the Geographical Institute of the Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Based on the available scientific results, the World Health Organisation believes it is important to emphasise that those materials represent a severe threat to drinking water safety, too Photo: Shutterstock

Article 16 of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) summarizes the strategies against pollution of water. The first regulation about the so-called priority substances that represent a significant risk for the environment was issued in 2001. The list was complemented on two occasions, but it still only features 33 substances/groups of substances (such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and toxic metals).

The European Commission published the first Watch List in 2015 and updated it in June 2018. The list features a number of derivatives of pharmaceuticals (e.g. certain synthetic hormones) as well as antibiotics. Member states are obliged to monitor the pollutants on the list in aquatic environments. A great deal depends on the evaluation of results and the further steps taken. It is clear that the appropriate detection and filtering of pharmaceutical residues is an increasingly urgent issue.
It is therefore reassuring that development of the technologies that will furnish a solution is
underway. However, their wide-spread application will depend to a great extent on the
associated regulatory environment.

Therefore the research that tracks the movement and absorption of those pharmaceuticals in our immediate and wider environments is crucially important Photo: Shutterstock
Further information: MTA CSFK Geographical Institute

Hungarian water treatment plant in Vietnam

It was announced in 2010 that the Vietnamese government would like to build a water treatment plant in Central Vietnam. Hungary is famous for its water treatment technology so they decided on a Hungarian partner.

The Biopolus BioMakery in the Netherlands

The Trappist monks of Koningshoeven Abbey have been brewing beer since 1881, and in recent years, they have also been baking bread and making chocolate, honey and cheese. The water to be treated is the wastewater from these brewing and manufacturing activities, together with the municipal wastewater from the Abbey and the visiting centre.

Over two tonnes of golf balls collected from Monterey Bay

Specialists believe almost 30 kilograms of microplastics has eroded from such a quantity of golf balls into the water.

Algal blooms grow more severe in the great lakes of the world

Over the last three decades, summer algal blooms in all large fresh-water lakes around the world have grown more severe – this is the conclusion of a global study, the longest ever of its kind, conducted by researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science and NASA. 

The Pacific cleanup may succeed

The system created by a Dutch inventor called System 101, whose first trial run, conducted a year ago, had failed, has started collecting plastic waste on the Pacific again.

Hungarian innovation to filter pharmaceutical residues

Many studies worldwide have shown that the active compounds of medications are released into the environment with wastewater and can easily be reintroduced into the human food chain from there. Filtering these residues out is an increasingly acute concern, but, thankfully, the world of science has already responded to the problem.

Garbage from Asia has inundated an island in the middle of the Atlantic

Researchers from Canada and Africa have found a massive amount of plastic bottles, originating form Asia, mainly from China, on Inaccessible Island, located in the South Atlantic Ocean. The bottles were probably discarded into the water and then washed up on the island from cargo ships passing the region.

Pharmaceutical residues in Hungarian waters

In Hungary, too, the active ingredients of various medications are discharged continuously into the environment with wastewater, so they can now be detected in surface and underground waters as well as in soils.

What can we do against pharmaceutical residues in our waters?

After being introduced into human and animal organisms, some pharmaceutical compounds are secreted via urine unchanged, and then, through wastewater, those compounds may reach surface waters that serve as drinking water supplies, representing a risk for both aquatic ecosystems and for the purity of drinking water.

Microplastics from an unexpected source

We’ve known for a long time that plastic food packaging, wearing car tyres and clothing made of synthetic fibres are all sources of microplastic pollution. However, a new study has identified a new source of pollution in our kitchens, or more precisely in our teacups.