Removal of APIs and Pharmaceutical Residues

The Background

Probably the biggest problem facing policymakers tackling pharmaceuticals in the environment (PiE) is that they are invisible. If it is difficult to persuade people that they should change age-old practices and make costly investments. It is even harder when they cannot see the evidence in the short-term.

Sources of PiE are wide-ranging and include:

  • Human excreta collected at sewage treatment plants and arising in effluent
  • Unused drugs disposed to landfill waste streams later emerging in leachate
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing plant wastewater discharge (often containing Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs))
  • Animal excreta from intensive farming appearing in run-off
  • Meat production, abattoir and rendering plant discharge

Pharmaceutical residues are polluting both surface waters and groundwaters globally and this includes cross-border rivers like the Rhine and the Meuse in Europe. The impacts on water quality in municipal supplies and on aquatic life and ecosystems can have very serious consequences as humans and other species are inadvertently dosed with medication.

The supply chain for pharmaceutical production is global and therefore, Western manufacturers must support measures in India and China too.

It is no surprise that collaboration offers the best way to tackle this complex and multi-stranded issue and currently the Netherlands offers an impressive model. The Dutch chain approach involves close dialogue between central government, regional water authorities and hospitals.

It engages the whole pharmaceutical chain and identifies measures for each stage of the pharma-cycle that must be taken in parallel:

  • Pharmaceutical development and authorisation
  • Drug prescription and use
  • Waste disposal and wastewater treatment

Technologies now exist for management to be carried out on-site throughout the chain, where pharmaceutical residues and APIs are expected to be most concentrated.

Potential sites include pharmaceutical production plants, municipal wastewater treatment plants, hospitals and elderly care homes and it is already happening. Arvia’s Nyex™ Treatment Systems have already successfully treated challenging wastewaters containing pharmaceutical residues in the UK, Europe and China from different sources.

The Projects

Some examples of Nyex™ in action working to remove pharmaceutical residues from water are:

Project 1 – DOC2C’s consortium, Europe*
A collaboration with project partners from the water industry and universities in the 2 Seas Area to research and exchange the results on contaminant removal

Project 2 – Nersingen City Council, Germany
A reduction of a mix of pharmaceutical residues from municipal water at the tertiary stage

The Solution

In both cases, the Nyex™-a treatment system was deployed on wastewater containing a cocktail of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, beta and nerve blockers as well as anti-depressants, amongst other regularly administered medications.

The Nyex™-a treatment process combines adsorption with electrochemical oxidation in a single, scalable unit. As the contaminated water flows into the reactor tank, pharmaceutical contaminants are concentrated onto the surface of our proprietary Nyex™ adsorbent media, which is non-porous with high electrical conductivity.

A low electrical current is simultaneously passed through the media bed to fully mineralise the adsorbed contaminants to H₂O, H₂ and CO₂, without the production of sludge. Unlike activated carbon, Nyex™ media is effectively regenerated in-situ and the process can continue without interruption or incineration to renew the media.

The treated water then flows from the reactor tank ready to be safely discharged.

The Results

Project 1 – DOC2C’s consortium, Europe

Figure 1 – Results from the on-site trials show a comprehensive removal of various pharmaceutical contaminants of >90% and often to below the limit of detection (LOD). The waters tested were surface water from Ijssel Meer and brine from both an ion-exchange and an electrodialysis unit.


Project 2 – Nersingen City Council, Germany

Figure 2 – Results from the in-house trials at Arvia’s facilities on real samples of water from Nersingen demonstrate a comprehensive removal rate against various pharmaceutical contaminants. Analysis was provided by an external laboratory for the raw water pre and post-treatment

Acknowledgements – *The DOC2C’s consortium consists of PWN Technologies R&D (NL), South West Water (UK), De Watergroep (BE), Lille University (FR) and Delft University of Technology (NL).


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