PFAS fixes to wastewater treatment could keep drug residue out of rivers 2021-08-11

The PFAS problem may cause wastewater treatment that cleans up another bad problem: pharmaceuticals.

Tara Lohan, The Revelator (Center for Biological Diversity), August 11, 2021, What Happens to Wildlife Swimming in a Sea of Our Drug Residues?

Wastewater exposes plants and wildlife to hundreds of chemical compounds. Researchers are learning about potential side effects and solutions.

Effects range from obvious physical defects to behavior change. For example, bold crawfish are not safe crawfish.

[Valdosta WWTP clean outfall, 2023-03-04, 30.8361045, -83.3595411]
Valdosta WWTP clean outfall, 2023-03-04, 30.8361045, -83.3595411

But a different type of contaminant may lead to fixes.

“In our study from 2020 we found that advanced treatment systems, like ozonation, can remove a lot of these pharmaceuticals,” [Diana Aga, director of the RENEW (Research and Education in Energy, Environment and Water) Institute at the University at Buffalo] explains. Since using ozone to disinfect water can also lead to the formation of potentially harmful by-products, Aga says it’s best to use another method — granular activated carbon — or both in combination.

“Together they could completely remove these pharmaceuticals,” she says.

Granular activated carbon systems for wastewater treatment are like large Brita filters commonly used for purifying water at home. Both technologies, though, will bump up the cost of treatment. For smaller water systems that lack economies of scale, that can be cost-prohibitive.

But it might not be long before such treatment systems become the norm anyway.

Other emerging contaminants in water like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) also pose threats to human health and potentially wildlife. As we learn more about these so-called “forever chemicals,” we may see regulations to curb their use and to treat contaminated water.

“There have been a lot of discussions from the EPA and some of the regulatory agencies that might require regulation of those PFAS, which would be a good driving force to update wastewater treatment systems,” says Aga.

Climate change could also help push along better wastewater-treatment systems, she says, especially in areas with declining freshwater resources and as the need develops in some places to reuse wastewater for drinking, irrigation or other uses.

Those changes could benefit wildlife by removing more chemical compounds and other contaminants before treated water is discharged back into the environment.

For more about PFAS, see:

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!