Manufacturing facilities release pharmaceuticals to the environment

June 04, 2010

Pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities can be a significant source of pharmaceuticals to surface waters, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted in cooperation with the State of New York.

Outflow from two wastewater treatment plants in New York that receive more than 20 percent of their wastewater from pharmaceutical facilities had concentrations of pharmaceuticals that were 10 to 1000 times higher than outflows from 24 plants nationwide that do not receive wastewater from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

"This is the first study in the U.S. to identify pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities as a significant source of pharmaceuticals to the environment," said Matthew C. Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Water. "The USGS is working with water utilities to evaluate alternative water treatment technologies with the goal of reducing the release of pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants to the environment."

Maximum concentrations in outflows from the two wastewater treatment plants in New York were: While pharmaceutical concentrations were significantly lower in receiving streams, measurable concentrations were detected as far as 20 miles downstream.

By contrast, outflow from the wastewater treatment plants that do not receive wastewater from pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities had concentrations that rarely exceeded one ppb.

"This study would not have been possible without the cooperation and support of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and wastewater treatment plants in New York and nationwide," said USGS scientist Patrick Phillips, who led the study. "We continue to work with the NYS DEC to monitor the quality of the outflows and receiving streams."

For this study, USGS scientists collected outflow samples periodically from 2004 to 2009 from three New York wastewater treatment plants, two of which receive more than 20 percent of their wastewater from pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities. USGS also collected samples from 2006-2009 from 23 selected wastewater treatment plants across the nation that do not receive wastewater from pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities.

All of the samples were analyzed for seven pharmaceuticals, including opioids and muscle relaxants, representing some of the most frequently prescribed medications in the U.S. Some pharmaceuticals studied have not previously been included in environmental studies.

The pharmaceuticals investigated in this study were identified using a forensic approach that identified initially unknown chemicals present in the wastewater treatment plant outflows at elevated levels. Although public records were not available for all pharmaceuticals formulated at these sites, available data indicate that these seven pharmaceuticals are manufactured at one or both of the New York facilities involved in the study. Additional pharmaceuticals were identified in the outflow of these two wastewater treatment plants, and ongoing studies are documenting the levels at which they occur in the environment.

This study is part of a long-term effort to determine the fate and effects of chemicals of emerging environmental concern and to provide water-resource managers with objective information that assists in the development of effective water management practices. More information can be found online.
-end-
USGS provides science for a changing world. Visit USGS.gov, and follow us on Twitter @USGS and our other social media channels.

Subscribe to our news releases via e-mail, RSS or Twitter.

Links and contacts within this release are valid at the time of publication.

Editors: This scientific paper is published in Environmental Science and Technology. The paper, an accompanying USGS data report, and related information are available online.

US Geological Survey

Related Wastewater Articles from Brightsurf:

New material 'mines' copper from toxic wastewater
A team of scientists led by Berkeley Lab has designed a new material -- called ZIOS (zinc imidazole salicylaldoxime) -- that targets and traps copper ions from wastewater with unprecedented precision and speed.

SARS-CoV-2 RNA detected in untreated wastewater from Louisiana
A group of scientists have detected genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 in untreated wastewater samples collected in April 2020 from two wastewater treatment plants in Louisiana, USA.

Could COVID-19 in wastewater be infectious?
Bar-Zeev, and his postdoc student, Anne Bogler, together with other renowned researchers, indicate that sewage leaking into natural watercourses might lead to infection via airborne spray.

Researchers: What's in oilfield wastewater matters for injection-induced earthquakes
Specifically, he pointed out that oilfield brine has much different properties, like density and viscosity, than pure water, and these differences affect the processes that cause fluid pressure to trigger earthquakes.

Better wastewater treatment? It's a wrap
A shield of graphene helps particles destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the free-floating genes in wastewater treatment plants.

Using electricity to break down pollutants left over after wastewater treatment
Pesticides, pharmaceutical products, and endocrine disruptors are some of the emerging contaminants often found in treated domestic wastewater, even after secondary treatment.

Anammox bacteria generate energy from wastewater while taking a breath
More energy-efficient wastewater treatment may be possible by harnessing anammox bacteria's surprising ability to 'breathe' solid-state matter.

IO hybrid adsorbent to remove hazardous Cadmium(II) from wastewater
In a paper published in NANO, a group of researchers from Hebei University of Technology, Tianjin, China have discovered an effective way to remove heavy metal Cadmium(II) from wastewater.

Using wastewater to monitor COVID-19
A recent review paper from an international research group shows how wastewater could provide a useful tool for monitoring COVID-19 and highlights the further research needed to develop this as a viable method for tracking virus outbreaks.

Rice engineers: Make wastewater drinkable again
Delivering water to city dwellers can become far more efficient, according to Rice University researchers who say it should involve a healthy level of recycled wastewater.

Read More: Wastewater News and Wastewater Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.