How to effectively remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater

Jan. 13, 2020
A new study from the University at Buffalo finds that granular activated carbon and ozonation are promising technologies for removing medicines like antibiotics and antidepressants from wastewater. 

Activated sludge is a common treatment process in wastewater treatment and serves and important purpose. However, this process is known to be much less effective when it comes to removing pharmaceuticals, like antidepressants and antibiotics.

In order to analyze various methods of removing pharmaceuticals, researchers studied seven Easter U.S. wastewater treatment plants, according to an article from UB’s newsroom titled “How U.S. sewage plants can remove medicines from water” by Charlotte Hsu.

The initial study revealed a mixed bag of results, with plants varying in their abilities to remove these chemicals. It also highlighted two treatment methods that are promising. Granular activated carbon and ozonation reduced the concentration of many pharmaceuticals by more than 95%, Hsu reports.

“The take-home message here is that we could actually remove most of the pharmaceuticals we studied. That’s the good news. If you really want clean water, there are multiple ways to do it,” explains Diana Aga, PhD, Henry M. Woodburn professor of chemistry at UB’s College of Arts and Sciences, in the article.

“However, for plants that rely on activated sludge only, more advanced treatment like granular activated carbon and/or ozonation may be needed,” she continues. “Some cities are already doing this, but it can be expensive.”

The study was a partnership between researchers at the University at Buffalo (UB), Stony Brook University, the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, and Hazen and Sawyer, a firm that designs wastewater treatment systems, including some of those that were studied.

Funded by the New York Sea Grant, the study was published in the journal Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology.

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