Biotechnological Hub of the NIB (BTH-NIB)

The purpose of the investment project BTH-NIB is the assurance of the appropriate infrastructural conditions for the use of research and developmental opportunities in the fields of operation of the NIB.

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Pharmaceutical and personal care product residues in the environment: Occurence, sources, treatment and effects

Project coordinator: dr. Ester Heath, IJS

Coordinator for NIB: prof. dr. Metka Filipič

Code: L1-5457

Duration: 1.8.2013 - 30.9.2016


Emerging environmental contaminants are not necessarily new chemicals, but are defined as substances that have often long been present in the environment but whose presence and significance are only now being elucidated. They commonly derive from municipal, agricultural, and industrial wastewater sources and pathways. The newly recognized contaminants represent a shift in traditional thinking as many are produced industrially but are also dispersed to the environment from domestic and commercial sources. Their presence is of concern due to possible adverse effects to human and the general wellbeing of ecosystems, especially since significant gaps in our knowledge exist concerning their presence, cycling, effects and eventual fate.   One of the emerging groups of organic pollutants of special concern is pharmaceutical and personal care product (PPCP) residues.  PPCP refers to any product used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons or used by agribusiness to enhance either the growth or health of livestock. The major goal of this project is to provide information on these compounds in order to evaluate their potential threat to ecosystem’s wellbeing and consequently to human health. To accomplish this goal, we will within the research activities of this project develop ultra-trace level analytical methods to quantify PPCP residues (parent compounds, metabolites-if applicable, and environmental transformation products) in different matrices (e.g. water, sediment). Sophisticated analytical procedures including hyphenated gas and liquid chromatographic and mass spectrometric techniques will be applied to evaluate their occurrence. Initially, sources and pathways by which contaminants enter the environment and those compartments, which will be sampled, will be selected according to physicochemical parameters. Also, processes that define their fate in the environment will be characterised and quantified based on screening various advanced treatment processes. These include UV degradation, photocatalysis, degradation in cavitation chamber, ozonation, oxidation with chlorine dioxide in combination with classical activated sludge (aerobic, anaerobic) and will be studied using a laboratory scale wastewater treatment plant and each assessed for efficacy for removing PPCP residues. The most efficient combination will be selected not only according to removal of PPCP residues but also according to potential toxic effects. Nevertheless, PPCP residues may be considered as model compounds, i.e. the representatives of trace persistent polar organic pollutants. In this sense, the proposed treatment technologies may also be applied to other industrial branches dealing with the elimination of organic micropollutants in the discharges. Co-financing organisations and end-of-pipe users will actively take part in this proposal by contributing their knowledge, needs and experiences. The project coordinator (Jožef Stefan Institute), the research groups: University of Ljubljana Faculty of Civil Engineering and Faculty for Chemistry and Chemical Technology, National Institute of Biology, Ecological Engineering Institute, VO-KA Waste Water Treatment Plant Ljubljana, and co-financing organisations and end-of-pipe users: Central Waste Water Treatment Plant Domžale-Kamnik, VO-KA Waste Water Treatment Plant Ljubljana, Ecological Engineering Institute and the University Medical Centre - Oncological Institute Ljubljana, collaborating in the project all have excellent references and have successfully completed numerous projects on this scale, which forms a good foundation for carrying out the proposed research. Importantly, the project is also supported by CSIC, EAWAG and Hoffman LaRoche. Overall, the project outcomes will raise awareness related to the effects of PPCP released into the environment and the potential threat that they pose to aquatic biota and human health. We will share and disseminate the results through various media outlets.

Significance for science

The elements of originality are: - Identification of sources of PPCP residues in Slovene environment Two “source-WWTP-receiving body” catchments will be followed with an emphasis on source identification. This project is the first undertaken in Slovenia. The work is of interest to PPCP sources and treatment bodies, and to the general public since our aim is to create awareness of the adverse effects of the over use and improper disposal of unused PPCPs. - Occurrence and cycling in Slovene environment This project intends to go further by not only using grab, flow or time proportional sampling, but also to use passive samplers. This novel approach will allow contaminants to be detected at ultra-low levels. Our aims are also to develop novel in-house passive samplers specifically to trap structurally diverse PPCP transformation products. - Formation and identification transformation product The identification of novel transformation products, formed during water treatment or in the environment, adds a new dimension to current research. The complexity of the task means that it has been restricted to only a few laboratories worldwide of which those in this research consortium are representative. The Organic Analytical Chemistry group, Department of Environmental Sciences, JSI, is a leader in this field. In addition the European institutions CSIC and EAWAG have with signing letter of intent guaranteed their support. -          Toxicology: Testing the toxicity of transformation products, and their interactive effects in mixtures of transformation products and metabolites and parent compounds are novel approaches in assessing the environmental impact of PPCP residues. The main drawback of previous studies of organic micropollutants is that they only focus on the parent compounds. However, compounds in the environment occur in mixtures and may, as a result, induce interactive (synergistic) effects in ecosystems. This project will address and compare both, single compound and mixture effects in artificial and environmental samples. The project combines research in analytical chemistry, ecotechnology and toxicology. This interdisciplinary approach will improve overall interpretation of the findings, which should meet with broad approval from the scientific community. We combine the knowledge of six research groups: Jožef Stefan Institute, University of Ljubljana, National Institute of Biology, and Institute for Ecological Engineering and four end-of-pipe users: Institute for Ecological Engineering and WWTP Domžale-Kamnik, VOKA-WWTP Ljubljana and UKC-Oncological Institute. In addition renowned international research groups CSIC (Spain), EAWAG and Hoffman LaRoche (both Switzerland) are supportive of this research. An interdisciplinary approach will bring together research institutes and end-of-pipe users to propose actual solutions. The data collated will result in publications in scientific journals of merit.