Impact of Residual Pharmaceutical Agents and their Metabolites in Wastewater Effluents on Downstream Drinking Water Treatment Facilities

EPA Grant Number: R829014
Title: Impact of Residual Pharmaceutical Agents and their Metabolites in Wastewater Effluents on Downstream Drinking Water Treatment Facilities
Investigators: Weinberg, Howard S. , Singer, Philip C. , Sobsey, Mark D. , Meyer, M. T.
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , United States Geological Survey
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Project Period: August 27, 2001 through August 26, 2004 (Extended to August 26, 2006)
Project Amount: $524,992
RFA: Drinking Water (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Drinking Water , Water Quality , Water


This research will assess the presence and subsequent impact of major use pharmaceutically active compound (PhAC) residues and their metabolites in the environment on drinking water quality. In particular, the project will evaluate the occurrence, fate, and transport of these chemicals from wastewater treatment plant discharges upstream of drinking water treatment plants. The raw water feed to the potentially susceptible drinking water-treatment facilities will then be monitored through the various treatment steps of the plant including the sediments and finished water. The hypotheses that are to be tested are that: (i) residual PhACs in municipal wastewater treatment plant discharges persist in the receiving streams and can be transported to downstream water treatment plant intakes; (ii) conventional drinking water treatment processes do not effectively remove all of these residues; (iii) PhAC residues may be present in the particulate phase removed during the drinking water treatment process and in finished drinking water; and (iv) the widespread use of antibiotics has led to the production of antibiotic resistant bacteria capable of penetrating treatment processes and persisting in and even multiplying in treated drinking water.


Using a combination of LC/MS and immunoassay techniques we will monitor sub nano-molar levels of major use antibiotics, blood lipid regulators, anti-inflammatories, b-blockers, hormone therapy drugs, and diagnostic chemicals in a variety of matrices: wastewater streams, raw water feeds to drinking water plants, and treated water from each of several treatment processes used during water treatment. We will also isolate selected types of bacteria from these waters, specifically E. coli, enterococci and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and determine the prevalence and levels of resistance to a range of antibiotics. A bench-scale study using elevated levels of selected PhACs in a local vulnerable surface water will evaluate the potential for removal or conversion of these compounds by a variety of physical and chemical treatments under controlled conditions. Furthermore, we will use broadly targeted LC-MS techniques to learn the fate of the source PhACs if they are chemically converted during treatment.

Expected Results:

Due to the bioactivity of PhACs, their presence even at the sub nano-molar level will pose a long-term health threat to consumers that has not yet been evaluated. We will focus on selected treatment facilities drawing water from vulnerable water supplies to examine the occurrence of selected PhAC's in these supplies, and track their fate through the corresponding water treatment plants. In addition to providing occurrence data, the project will probe the fate of these compounds and antibiotic resistant bacteria through a variety of drinking water plants that can measure the impact of most of the treatment techniques in place today on the persistence or transformation of these compounds as well as antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 12 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 3 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

watersheds, drinking water, sediments, chemical transport, ecological effects, vulnerability, human health, bacteria, organic chemicals, analytical, national survey,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Hydrology, Environmental Chemistry, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Fate & Transport, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Effects - Human Health, Drinking Water, Ecological Indicators, ecological effects, fate and transport, monitoring, ecological exposure, bacteria, metabolites, pharmaceuticals, vulnerability, exposure and effects, wastewater, exposure, other - risk assessment, chemical contaminants, chemical transport, treatment, water quality, organic chemicals, drinking water contaminants, water treatment, drinking water treatment

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2003 Progress Report
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • 2005
  • Final Report