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Managing the risks arising from medicinal residues in water

Over the past 15 years, progress in physico-chemical analysis has made it possible to detect medicinal residues in natural surface and ground water and in the water intended for human consumption.

Antibiotics, antidepressants, beta blockers, oral contraceptives, etc. are all biologically active substances that are continuously released to aquatic environments via wastewater-treatment plants and storm overflows installed in treatment networks. Though there are no risks of acute toxicity, these micropollutants can nonetheless impact on aquatic organisms.

"Though we now have more knowledge on the concentration levels of medicinal residues in aquatic environments, there are still very few relevant ecotoxicological studies carried out in the field on chronic exposure regimes to low concentrations", notes Pierre-François Staub, an Onema expert in aquatic chemistry. Study of the toxic effects is very complex because substance concentrations are very low (nanogram per litre) and in the form of complex mixes of micropollutants, both medicinal and other. What is more, the products resulting from the metabolised medication and/or degradation of the medication are often unknown and the same is true for their toxicity.

This complex subject is one of the major priorities of the scientific council at Onema and will be the topic of a seminar scheduled for the month of May. To assist in defining a national strategy for monitoring of medicinal substances, Onema has already requested a report from INERIS on the current knowledge available in this field.

The goal is to "draw up an inventory of environmental status conditions and to determine the vulnerability of aquatic organisms, the impact mechanisms and how organisms are affected depending on their level of development" according to Pierre-François Staub.

Onema has also assigned to Cemagref the job of drawing up an inventory of wastewater-treatment processes designed to eliminate medicinal residues. The inventory will benefit from the knowledge already gained by Cemagref via the programme to assess priority and emerging micropollutants in raw and treated water output by wastewater-treatment plants.


Contacts: pierre-franç