Water Purification

Removal of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients/Emerging Contaminants in the Environment

Pharmaceuticals in the Environment

By Gabriela Porto Da Cruz – Coftec

Pharmaceuticals in the environment (PiE) are an increasing concern as they are found in water used for irrigation and drinking, which leads to environmental and health risks such as the surge of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms (AMR) due to antibiotic APIs, even at low concentrations. These micropollutants can reach the environment by disposal of medication, excretion by the human body in household wastewater, and as APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) from pharmaceutical plants. The long-term effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment on human health and aquatic life are not fully known, which is why it is important to review conventional methods to also target APIs to guarantee good water quality.

Removing APIs from Wastewater

APIs are difficult to remove from wastewater by conventional methods, especially to minimum levels. Primary and secondary treatments alone are ineffective in the removal of APIs in wastewater, as the levels of these materials are often too low to be addressed by primary treatment. Some the compounds are not completely degraded by biological treatment. There are different methods being implemented in wastewater treatment plants to remove APIs, each with its own advantages and limitations.

Thermal oxidation for example requires collection, transport and incineration in special facilities, which contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. This approach is expensive due to cost of energy and fuel.

Advanced oxidation (AOP) involves the combination of ozone oxidation with hydrogen peroxide or UV light with hydrogen peroxide. Although it can be effective at low concentrations and ozone is a powerful oxidant, the process is expensive, may produce toxic by-products, and the use of ozone presents some limitations for being toxic.

Activated carbon, including GAC (granular activated carbon) is a common method of treating wastewater. Carbon, being a highly porous material and in offering a large surface area. works by adsorption. However, it cannot completely remove some APIs.  Additionally, activated carbon requires regeneration, management and the production process is environmentally costly.

MBR or membrane bioreactor is an ultrafiltration membrane which combines secondary and tertiary treatments. Although it works better than conventional technologies and has many advantages, it is still not as effective for some APIs.

Electrochemical advanced oxidation process (EAOP) uses electricity to generate oxidants which break down APIs into gas and water. Although this method can remove some APIs that are not removed by other techniques, it requires more power, which adds to costs.

Nyex is a highly energy-efficient and environmentally friendly water treatment technology, able to reduce APIs and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) to trace levels. The technology uses a combination of electrochemical oxidation and adsorption media that regenerates and adsorbs the materials it oxidises at the same time, resulting in no sludge and no chemicals. The adsorption media adsorbs pharmaceutical residues in the water as it flows through the reactor unit while a low electrical current fully mineralises the adsorbent components. It requires relatively low power and low maintenance, thus reducing operational costs. Arvia’s Nyex treatment systems have already been used to reduce pharmaceutical residues to below the limit of detection (LOD) in the UK, Europe and China. The technology can also be used in water reclamation and reuse, drinking water treatment, point of entry treatment and used as part of a treatment train.


Are you facing issues with API’s or other such contaminants in your wastewater stream? Coftec can help. We have access to a range of technologies to address these problems which our in-house design team will build into a practical solution to address the problem at hand.

Call us today to discuss how we can help.

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