Frequent Questions

Are there treatment techniques available that can combat the impact of pharmaceuticals in drinking water? What are the financial costs associated with the treatment techniques?

Most pharmaceutical compounds enter waterways used for drinking water from municipal and industrial wastewater discharges, although some may enter as non-point sources as well. Some wastewater treatment facilities have the ability to remove some pharmaceuticals using advanced treatment processes such as activated sludge or other biological treatment (e.g. biofilters). In general, studies have found the most effective treatment technologies for drinking water are oxidation (chlorine, ozone), advanced oxidation (UV or ozone with hydrogen peroxide), high pressure membranes (reverse osmosis and nanofiltration) and granular activated carbon (GAC). Most of these technologies are practical for water utilities and, in fact, mid to large size utilities have considerable experience with them-with the possible exception of advanced oxidation. Other treatment technologies for both drinking water and wastewater have been proven to be effective, but the removal or transformation capability depends on the type of pharmaceutical compound in question.

The cost of treating water contaminated with pharmaceutical compounds very much depends on type of treatment, which depends on the targeted type of pharmaceutical or other organic wastewater contaminant. Treatment cost also depends on amount of water to be treated (volume or flow rate) and the existing infrastructure into which these treatment technologies would fit (i.e., if new facilities would have to be designed and constructed to accommodate new treatment technology).

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