According to the EPA, more than 30 million Americans lived in areas where water systems violated safety regulations. This number only becomes direr when put into context with the ongoing Flint Water Crisis; however, dangerous metals are not the only potential toxin in our water supply. Erik Olson, director of Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says the government fails to regulate our water systems for basic contaminants—the most pervasive being pharmaceutical pollution.
Female researchers from Swansea University, alongside Biotage, may have found a way to remove pharmaceutical pollution from our waterways.
Wait, pharmaceutical pollution is doing what to fish?
Our drugs are causing a bigger danger to our waterways than we realize. While there is no immediate danger to human health, pharmaceutical pollution has already had a profound effect on water ecosystems. Their effects on the environment and prove the possibility of these drugs bio-accumulating in human bodies.
There have been global reports of the adverse effects of pharmaceuticals on the animal kingdom. Diclofenac, for example, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, has caused multiple species of vulture in Asia to become critically endangered.
The Indian long-billed vulture and red-headed vulture populations have decreased by 97-99%. The most profound effect however is the female contraceptive pill on river fish populations. Birth control runoff has caused the feminization of male fish, which has caused populations to decrease rapidly over 2 years.
QuEChERS, a new single-step method of removal
An all-female research team at Swansea University has developed a new method of fast and singular removal of pharmaceutical pollution. Typically, a standard wastewater treatment system is a long and multi-step process. Often wastewater treatment plants will utilize coagulation (solid removal), flocculation (particle separation), sedimentation (dewatering), filtration, and lastly disinfection.
These relatively standard steps are supposed to remove pathogens, metals, total suspended and dissolved solids, and synthetic chemicals. However, repeatedly households find this system failing them: there are old pipes poisoning cities with lead, industrial sites leaking PFAs into waterways, then large concentrations of everyday drugs flowing into the water system.
Through a method called QuEChERS, or through mass spectrometric detection, they can detect, extract, and quantify a range of different compounds found in everyday personal care products. The researchers can then get a clearer picture of the factors controlling how antimicrobial resistance develops and spreads in the community. This knowledge has the potential to help safeguard water quality, the environment, and health.
“The newly developed method fits perfectly with our portfolio of sample preparation products,” co-author Dr. Claire Desbrow said. “Being able to clean up complex human, food or environmental samples fast and efficiently will be of benefit to not only researchers but also industrial, environmental, and regulatory laboratories across the globe.”