GCU presents noPILLS research project findings

11 August 2015

The findings of a three-year project researching the reduction of pharmaceutical residues that pollute water will be presented at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) next month (September).

GCU researchers and partners from German water boards Emschergenossenschaft and Lippeverband, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology and the French Université de Limoges, have been working on the EU-funded noPILLS study to raise awareness of the presence of pharmaceutical residues in wastewater and explore new methods of reducing them before they are released into rivers.

At a dissemination event at GCU, researchers will present the results from noPILLS and make recommendations for policy and stakeholders dealing with pharmaceutical residues in the water cycle, focusing on the Scottish context.

Topics covered will include removal efficiencies in conventional treatment plants, temporal and spatial variation in concentrations and loads, antibiotic resistance, public attitudes to medicines and their environmental effects, and using virtual reality and games as engagement tools.

Since the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) was adopted in 2000, reduction of pollution and river water quality improvement has become a major focus in the management of water resources internationally. In 2013, several pharmaceuticals were added to the Watch List of emerging pollutants, which will be monitored more closely.

Improved analytical capabilities and ecotoxicological understanding has highlighted new threats to water quality, including micropollutants in the form of pharmaceutical residues and industrial chemicals. Pharmaceuticals such as ibuprofen and other medicines are not fully absorbed into the human body so some pass into the wastewater stream.

Led by Professor Ole Pahl, the GCU team in Scotland has been researching whether, and how, pharmaceutical product input into the environment may be reduced by raising awareness, encouraging different consumption or prescription practices, and promoting better disposal.

Professor Pahl said: “We found that, in order to comprehensively tackle the problem of pharmaceutical residues polluting our rivers and surface waters, it is crucial to include all stakeholders and users of medicines. Treatment of wastewater in sewage works alone is not sufficient.

“As a society, we have to decide whether we want to keep the substances out of our rivers and whether we want to take measures to stop them getting into the wastewater. These pollutants are in the water because we all use – and sometimes dispose of unwanted – medicines. Once they are in the wastewater it is almost impossible to remove them completely.”

Karin Helwig, a researcher on the GCU team, looked at spatial variation in pharmaceutical concentrations in a Scottish catchment. She said: “We found relatively high levels of some pharmaceuticals in the water environment, especially in a small stream. We also found indications that sources other than treated wastewater may play a more important role than previously thought.”

The GCU team developed new communication and awareness tools such as games and virtual reality tools. This work will be of interest to policy makers and inform appropriate measures for the reduction of these pollutants.

This dissemination event takes place at GCU on Thursday, September 10, 10am-4pm. To reserve your space, please visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dissemination-event-the-nopills-project