Drugs in the Water


Thanks to medical advances and treatment through medication, the quality of life and average age in Germany have significantly increased. As a result, approximately 8,000 tons of human medications with around 1,200 different active agents are used.

  women take a water sample from a water treatment facility Copyright: © Peter Winandy The Institute for Urban Water Management is investigating

Residue from medication enters waste water through human excretion. It also enters water through the inappropriate disposal of unused medication down toilets or drains. Animal medication lands on fields and pastures through liquid manure. It can also enter the water cycle through rain.

Because the toxicological effects of some pharmaceutical active agents are known and their effect on the environment can be proven or even not excluded, the residue of micro-pollutants in water is attracting the public's attention. The RWTH Institute for Urban Water Management, ISA for short, is investigating processes and combinations of processes from the laboratory scale to the industrial scale to accomplish this goal.

The focus of the research in Aachen is on the determination of the processes' efficiency and optimal operational settings such as delay time, contact time, and dose. Questions about how to conduct a process and the integration of modern processes into the sanitation facility process are at the focus. In oxidation processes, for example, ozone supply and a sufficient reaction time greatly influence efficiency. Ozone is very unstable; it is created right before it is applied to the sewage plant and comes directly in contact with the waste water.

At the facility in Aachen-Soers, ISA is providing scientific guidance during the industrial-scale ozone treatment on the entire volume of a sewage plant for the first time. Aside from the engineering and scientific topics, the institute is also focusing on the identification of the unknown transformation products of those micro-pollutants.

Please Note

A more detailed look at this topic was published in an article by ISA author team professor Dr.-Ing. Johannes Pinnekamp, Dr.-Ing. Laurence Palmowski, and Dr. Volker Linnemann and is available in German in the research magazine RWTH-Themen 2/2015.