Researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have developed a new technique to prevent pharmaceutical residues from entering waterways and harming wildlife.
The new water treatment technology – called membrane distillation – separates drug residues from sewage with the help of district heating, says who worked on the development project with IVL and Scarab Development AB.
Martin says that water vapor passes through a thin, hydrophobic membrane of material similar to Goretex, and through an air gap, where it condensed onto a cold surface. Drug residues collect on one side of the membrane and pure water on the other.
“There is currently no technology capable of doing this cleaning process on a large scale,” Martin says. “And for the membrane distillation process to work, the water temperature does not need to be very high, which is good.”
Pharmaceutical residues in wastewater have been found to alter fish behavior and could even affect the growth of algae. A recent study at Sweden’s Umeå University shows even low levels of Oxazepam detected in the Fyris River, in central Sweden, caused perch to become more antisocial, risk prone and active, making them an easier target for predators such as pike. The study measured levels of Oxazepam found in the perch, which were six times higher than in the water itself.
The study also indicated that the release of anti-anxiety drugs can affect entire ecosystems in a waterway, possibly contributing to an increases or decreases in the incidence of algae.
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