Nav: Home

Reduce, reuse, recycle: Safe for water?

March 02, 2016

What would you do without water?

Farmers in drought areas are especially concerned by this question. As fresh water resources become scarce, one option for water-conscious farmers is to water crops with treated wastewater. This effluent is becoming a more popular option for applications that don't require drinking-quality water. However, there are still questions about how the effluent interacts with and affects the rest of the ecosystem.

This is where Alison Franklin and her team at Pennsylvania State University come in. Franklin is investigating what happens to certain compounds that remain in the effluent after treatment. She wants to know, "Where do these compounds go?"

The chemicals that Franklin studies are pharmaceutical and personal care products, including antibiotics. Currently, wastewater treatment facilities are not able to completely remove these compounds. They frequently remain in the effluent in an active form.

Franklin explains, "As I learned about pharmaceutical and personal care products in the environment, I became very interested in where these compounds were ending up. What were the possible implications of these low level compounds in the environment on human, animal, and ecological health?"

Franklin and her team set out to follow the environmental paths of four different compounds found in effluent when it is used to spray irrigate wheat crops.

First, Franklin measured the amounts of three types of antibiotics and one anti-seizure medicine in the effluent from the University Park wastewater treatment plant. The water from this treatment plant was then used to irrigate wheat crops at Penn State's Living Filter site. This site is a special area used to test the reuse of effluent. Samples of the wheat straw and grain were collected before and at harvest time, and the samples were analyzed for the four different compounds.

"The concentrations of the compounds in the effluent were fairly low, so I was quite surprised when we were able to actually quantify the compounds in the samples," says Franklin.

The researchers found that the pre-harvest samples showed most of the compounds on the outer surfaces of the plant, but insignificant amounts in the plant parts (grain and straw). The samples collected at the time of harvest had trace amounts of all four compounds on the plant surface. Three of the compounds were detected in the plant parts. Two compounds were detected only in the grain and not in the straw. The third compound was detected in both the grain and the straw. However, none of the compounds were at toxic levels.

Many factors affect the path of a compound into and within the plant, such as the pH level of the soil and the plant, the plant species, and even the specific plant part. By analyzing both the straw and the grain, Franklin was able to have a better idea of how the wheat plants take up the compounds.

"It is preferable for the compounds to be taken up into the non-edible portion, like straw, because it minimizes risk," she explains. "By looking at both plant parts the study provided more comprehensive information about the fate of these compounds."

The compounds' trails have been tracked from the effluent to the wheat plants. So Franklin's next investigation will be whether the small amounts of compounds in the wheat plants pose potential health risks for humans and animals. Franklin admits, "It's a fine balance of protecting the health of the environment and organisms, yet managing water resources that are diminishing."

Franklin is working to understand that balance and determine best options for smart water use. Read more about Franklin's work in Journal of Environmental Quality. Penn State's Office of Physical Plant and the USDA Regional Research Projects W-3170 and W-2082 funded this project.
-end-


American Society of Agronomy

Related Health Articles:

Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
Generous health insurance plans encourage overtreatment, but may not improve health
Offering comprehensive health insurance plans with low deductibles and co-pay in exchange for higher annual premiums seems like a good value for the risk averse, and a profitable product for insurance companies.
The Lancet Planetary Health: Food, climate, greenhouse gas emissions and health
Increasing temperatures, water scarcity, availability of agricultural land, biodiversity loss and climate change threaten to reverse health gains seen over the last century.
With health insurance at risk, community health centers face cut-backs
Repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, combined with a failure to renew critical funding streams, would result in catastrophic funding losses for community health centers-forcing these safety net providers to cut back on services, lay off staff or shut down clinical sites, according to a report published today.
Study clusters health behavior groups to broaden public health interventions
A new study led by a University of Kansas researcher has used national health statistics and identified how to cluster seven health behavior groups based on smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, physician visits and flu vaccination are associated with mortality.
Tailored preventive oral health intervention improves dental health among elderly
A tailored preventive oral health intervention significantly improved the cleanliness of teeth and dentures among elderly home care clients.
Study finds that people are attracted to outward signs of health, not actual health
Findings published in the journal Behavioral Ecology reveal that skin with yellow and red pigments is perceived as more attractive in Caucasian males, but this skin coloring does not necessarily signal actual good health.
In the January Health Affairs: Brazil's primary health care expansion
The January issue of Health Affairs includes a study that explores a much-discussed issue in global health: the role of governance in improving health, which is widely recognized as necessary but is difficult to tie to actual outcomes.
University of Rochester and West Health Collaborate on d.health Summit 2017
In collaboration with West Health, the University of Rochester is hosting the third annual d.health Summit, a forum for health care and technology leaders, entrepreneurs, senior care advocates and policymakers to exchange ideas, create new partnerships, and foster disruptive technological and process innovations to improve the lives of the nation's aging population.
Study links health literacy to higher levels of health insurance coverage
The federal Affordable Care Act is intended to make it easier for individuals to buy health insurance, but are the uninsured equipped to navigate the choices faced in the insurance marketplace?

Related Health Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#514 Arctic Energy (Rebroadcast)
This week we're looking at how alternative energy works in the arctic. We speak to Louie Azzolini and Linda Todd from the Arctic Energy Alliance, a non-profit helping communities reduce their energy usage and transition to more affordable and sustainable forms of energy. And the lessons they're learning along the way can help those of us further south.