EU project discovers pioneering method for eliminating antibiotics from wastewater

June 30, 2003

Brussels, Jun 2003

From the 12,500 tons of antibiotics consumed per year worldwide, a significant amount of antibiotic residue is finding its way into municipal wastewater and agricultural waste. Scientists fear that these compounds could lead to groundwater and soil contamination, and consequently accelerate the development of resistance in many disease organisms.

To tackle this problem, a 2.18 million euro EU project has developed a pioneering method, using ozone-based oxidation processes, to eliminate antibiotics.

Funded under the energy, environment and sustainable development (EESD) section of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), the POSEIDON project consortium gathered together experts from five Member States, as well as Switzerland and Poland, in order to make preliminary assessments of the current situation around Europe, and to test their theory.

In monitoring sewage treatments plants across Europe, the project consortium found the remnants of some 36 different pharmaceuticals. At the same time, project experts also recorded the presence of up to 30 different types of pharmaceuticals in samples taken from European streams and rivers. In Germany alone, of the groundwater samples taken near known polluted streams and rivers, the consortium found that 25 per cent or more displayed above-average concentration levels of pharmaceuticals.

Having assessed the gravity of the situation, experts then investigated methods of water treatment, focusing on their efficiency in eliminating pharmaceuticals and personal care products. They found that if wastewater was ozonated -using ozone gas to disinfect it - the potential for the formation of resistant bacterial strains was lowered. This theory was fully tested during a series of pilot scale experiments on a waste treatment plant in Braunschweig, Germany. The consortium noted that decreases in resistant bacterial strains were in direct correlation to the elimination of antibiotics in the ozonated water.

The project's method for removing antibiotics is considered to be breakthrough, as up until now, little information was available about the environmental concentrations of antibiotic residues, or how to eliminate them.

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CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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