Water 3.0 Solves Problem of Microplastics and Pharmaceuticals In Wastewater

Written by Christine Lepisto.

Last week, Lund University reported that microplastics cross the blood-brain barrier to accumulate in the brains of fish, and this build-up may be related to behavioral disorders in fish, including slower eating and less exploration of their environments.

This report adds to news that

Standard wastewater treatment plants cannot deal with the flood of microplastics. Many plastic fibers and particles are too small for cost-effective filtration methods, and they are neutral, having no properties that allow them to be collected easily out of waste waters. Some microplastic gets caught up in the grease and fats skimmed off of wastewater, or settle out into the sludge, but a lot of plastic still gets discharged into surface waters. Options like sand filtration can catch the particles, but they just end up in the water again when the filters are backflushed so they can continue to work effectively.

The problem with drugs arises because very low quantities consumed constantly may still be harmful, so even if only a low percentage of the drugs in wastewater get through, a lifetime of exposure to this dilute cocktail of active chemicals poses a threat. With increased drug use by an aging population, the problem will only worsen.

The simple fact is: waster water treatment technology was never designed to manage these complex new challenges.

A project called Water 3.0 (Wasser 3.0) is gaining recognition and earning awards for both raising the profile of these serious issues and for working on the chemistry of new solutions to the problems. Led by Jun.-Prof. Dr. Katrin Schuhen at the University of Koblenz-Landau Organic and ecological chemistry department, the group works on the next generation technologies needed to treat microplastics and pharmaceuticals in wastewater.

Their experiments with hybrid silica gels show great promise. The pharmaceutical molecules chemically react with the gels, securely separating them from water. Microplastics are treated with a gel that promotes the formation of clumps, that grow into lumps as big as ping pong balls that float on the surface of the treatment basin, allowing for ease of separation.

The separation of the silica gel material from the water ensures that the water contaminants can be permanently and effectively disposed. The silica gel can be recycled, giving the process a more positive lifecycle eco-balance and keeping it cost effective.

The process is now in its first tests in cooperation with a wastewater treatment facility. Retrofitting of wastewater treatment plants to use new technologies to solve these new problems will become essential once proven technologies are available.

Learn more about the problems, the technical solutions, and what you can do to reduce these water pollutants at water 3.0 (English) and Water 3.0 on facebook (German).

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Photo Credit: Jeff Turner/Flickr

35 comments

Marie W
Marie W1 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Mike R
Mike R7 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R7 months ago

Thanks

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Marion F
Marion Friedl7 months ago

Microplastics´re often in cosmetic products like peelings, please only buy peelings with natural "microbeads" f. ex. made of sugar, or make your peelings yourself!!! Unfortunately Care2 posted lately that microbeads´re also set free if you wash fleece clothes, but that article said this only happens the first 2 or 3 times you wash them, I have 5 or 6 fleece sweaters and 2 fleece pants because fleece´s a good alternative to wool, and when I bought that stuff I didn´t know about the microbeads that can be set free when you wash them, but they´re all older yet and I washed each of them 5 or more times yet, so now this shouldn´t happen anymore!!!

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Lisa M
Lisa M7 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M7 months ago

Noted.

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Winn A
Winn A7 months ago

Thanks

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Julie W
Julie W7 months ago

Issues like improving water quality seem to be low on the Republicans' to-do list, so I don't hold out much hope they will implement this.

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Christeen A
Christeen Anderson7 months ago

Sounds good to me.

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Lenore K
Lenore K7 months ago

ok

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