The data, which the UB scientists will present tomorrow at the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy being held in Orlando, will allow wastewater treatment plants to begin monitoring for these byproducts.
The results also reinforce concerns about excreted pharmaceutical compounds from wastewater systems that may end up in the water supply, potentially resulting in adverse effects for humans and the environment.
For example, antibiotics and their metabolites can significantly increase antibiotic resistance in the population. Synthetic hormones can act as endocrine disruptors, by mimicking or blocking hormones and disrupting the body's normal functions.
The UB presentations will be made as part of a day-long symposium to be held March 16 on "Degradation and Treatment of Pharmaceuticals in the Environment." It will be chaired by Diana Aga, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry in UB's College of Arts and Sciences and leader of the UB team.
According to Aga, it has been only in the past five years that analytical-chemistry techniques have become sufficiently affordable and practical to allow researchers to detect pharmaceuticals and their metabolites efficiently at the parts-per-billion and parts-per-trillion range.
"Current wastewater treatment processes are optimized to reduce nitrates and phosphates and dissolved organic carbon, the major pollutants of concern in domestic wastes," said Aga. "However, treatment facilities don't monitor or measure organic microcontaminants like residues of pharmaceuticals and active ingredients of personal care products."
Aga said that most previous studies looked for drugs' active ingredients in treated wastewater.