Dec 05, 2007

“Pharmaceutical Soup” Can Be Treated

Hospital treatment system removes harmful chemicals from wastewater

Hospital patients consume a myriad of drugs—drugs that are eventually excreted as wastewater and ultimately find their way into the water system. Many of these drugs are not biodegradable and do not disappear from the water, even after it is treated.

Environmentalists are concerned with the development of this “pharmaceutical soup,” as there are already indications that drugs in treated water can lead to the feminization of fish, the decrease in antibiotics effectiveness and a reduced sperm count in young men.

Now, a joint project between the Duisburg Institute of Energy and Environmental Technology means that researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology were able to develop a process by which hospital wastewater could be treated at the source. This means that the potentially harmful drugs that currently make it to municipal treatment systems will no longer be able to do so.

The unique factor about the system is that it can focus on just the areas of the hospital’s piping system that need to be treated—such as toilet sewage from the oncology department—rather that treating the entire hospital’s wastewater.

“'The method is extremely effective,” said Fraunhofer UMSICHT project manager Bettina Becker. “Following treatment, over 99% of the tested substances [cyto-statics, antibiotics, psychotropic drugs and pain-killers] have been dispelled and can no longer be detected in an analysis.” Once this water had been cleaned, all toxicity and genetically harmful components were removed.

The method places the suspended solids in a sedimentation tank, which then runs the water through a reaction container. The reaction container treats the solids with ultraviolet light, hydrogen peroxide and ozone; the combination of these treatments deactivates all active components.

This type of plant, which currently exits as a pilot plant at the IUTA, may save hospitals money in the future, as the fees they now pay for heavily contaminated wastewater may eventually be levied.