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Published: 22 Mar, 2017

World Water Day focusing on wastewater

NEWS On 22 Wednesday 2017, Umeå and the rest of the World celebrate the World Water Day. This year’s theme is “Why waste water?”. Jerker Fick at the Department of Chemistry leads a research project on purifying wastewater from pharmaceutical residue.

Photo: Mostphotos

Jerker Fick and his research team has previously shown that antibiotic discharge into wastewater leads to resistant bacteria in our watercourses. They have also shown that remnants from antianxiety agents (anxiolytic drugs) altered the behaviour of the fish perch in a way that could strongly impair its chance of survival. The research team has tried to introduce an ozone-based purification method as an additional part of the process in a Swedish sewage treatment plant in Knivsta outside of Uppsala. The results are now being evaluated.

How far has the project come?

“We are now in the final year and in the process of finalising the chemical and biological analyses.”

What is the purification procedure?

“The pilot plant uses ozonation, a form of chemical purification method where ozone is added to the water by bubble contact with the wastewater and as a result oxidises chemicals.”

Jerker Fick.
Jerker Fick, chemistry resercher at Umeå University. Photo: Johan Gunséus.

How efficient has purification using ozone proven so far?

“We are using an analysis method that enables us to study 110 various pharmaceuticals where we have seen that ozone disinfection lowers the levels of the pharmaceuticals by 90%. In other words, the ozonation leaves a tenth.” 

On what pharmaceutical remains does the method seem most efficient?

“Most antibiotics, antihypertensive agents and painkillers are nearly completely neutralised.”

What pharmaceuticals does the method not affect?

“There are a few pharmaceuticals, for instance one against fungal infections, which have proven extremely stabile and can only be reduced to a small degree.”

You have previously shown that remains from antianxiety agents made perch in the Swedish stream Fyrisån become fearless and voracious in a way that could impair its chance of survival. Would ozone purification mean that perch would act normal again?

“This project has not included any behavioural studies. Nevertheless, the levels of the pharmaceutical that caused behavioural changes, i.e. oxazepam, are reduced using ozone purification and we can see much lower levels in the purified wastewater. In our study, we saw effects at 1.8 mcg/L oxazepam, compared to 0.6 mcg/L in Fyrisån. And within the scope of this project, we measured 0.01 mcg/L in ozone purified wastewater, and even lower levels in the Knivsta Stream. So yes, perches should act normal.”

Do you suggest the method is introduced as a standard in sewage treatment plants or is it important only in regions with pharmaceutical industries?

“The major flow of pharmaceutical residue goes through our regular sewage treatment plants, and ozone purification is an efficient way of reducing the flow of these and also other chemicals into the environment. Personally, I would be prepared to accept a slight increase in fees to enable an upgrade of our sewage treatment plants.”

Why is the pilot plant situated outside of Uppsala, and not Umeå?

“Knivsta was chosen as we wanted a smaller sewage treatment plant – making full-scale trials is very expensive. We also wanted the plant to be situated in the proximity to a smaller watercourse that is largely affected by wastewater. This in order to monitor the ecotoxicological and environmental effects of the pure wastewater treated with ozone. We also wanted to use a sewage treatment plant where staff and management were interested in participating in the project.” 

What work remains to be done?

“We are now reaching the end of the project and are intensely working on completing and summarising all our results, draw conclusions and write a final report and our publications.”

About World Water Day

World Water Day is an annual event celebrated on 22 March. The day focuses attention on the importance of universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in developing countries. The day also focuses on advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
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Editor: Anna Lawrence