Wastewater Industry Insight | Arvia Technology

April 2018

In the second of two blogs on the impact of pharmaceutical residues and micropollutants on the environment, we explain the risks of antimicrobial resistance and how it can be tackled.

The threat to human health and life from antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could not be more serious and it is growing. In 2016, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 490,000 people developed multi-drug resistant tuberculosis globally and drug resistance is starting to complicate the fight against HIV and malaria as well.

AMR occurs when genetic changes take place in microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. This can render medications against various infections ineffective.

A resistant infection may prolong illness, prevent routine medical procedures and result in disability and even death. It imposes huge costs on individuals and society including the financial burden of more intensive health care and reduced productivity.

It is well documented that the use and overuse of drugs and especially antimicrobials in both human and lifestock populations has increased globally. Combined with inadequate treatment and separation of waste and wastewater streams this is facilitating the spread of drug-resistant strains of bacteria in drinking water, food sources and the wider ecosystem; directly affecting the health of humans and survival of other species. (Read more on the invisible threat of pharmaceuticals in the environment here)

There can be no doubt that AMR is a complex problem and a coordinated strategy is required. WHO says all countries require national action plans and in Europe cross-border initiatives are already being mooted.

Along with investment in improved drugs, vaccines and medical practices, it is also necessary to minimise pharmaceuticals entering the environment, drinking water sources and the food chain.

Treatment at source is one effective method that is becoming viable as the costs of technology come down and the risk coming from business-as-usual increases. Sites where antimicrobial drug emissions are most concentrated include pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, hospitals, elderly care homes and food and agri-business premises.

It may become necessary to treat micropollutants wherever water is abstracted for human or animal use and before treated wastewater effluent is discharged into the environment. Due to advances in technology it is now possible to install specialist packaged treatment technologies like Arvia’s Nyex on-site.

Nyex combines adsorption with electrochemical oxidation in a single, scalable unit that is easy to operate. The system is free from chemical dosing, has a self-regenerating media and does not produce sludge.

Robust and effective practical and policy measures are urgently needed to tackle PiE and AMR as the human and environmental cost of inaction is too great. In Europe there are indications that a more strategic approach is emerging. The good news is that the technologies to support these efforts are emerging too.

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