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The crazy thing that medication does to the sewer system

Medication, specifically pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), has become a significant issue in sewage treatment due to their presence in wastewater and their potential negative effects on the environment and human health. Pharmaceuticals are often present in wastewater due to human consumption and excretion, as well as improper disposal of unused or expired medications. PPCPs, such as fragrances and beauty products, can also enter wastewater through personal use and improper disposal.

The presence of medication in wastewater can have significant impacts on the environment, including the potential for contamination of surface and ground water sources. Many medications and PPCPs are not completely removed during sewage treatment and can be released into the environment through effluent discharges. These substances can have harmful effects on aquatic life, including hormonal imbalances, genetic mutations, and reproductive problems.

There is also a growing concern about the potential for human exposure to medication through the consumption of contaminated water or food sources. Some studies have shown that trace amounts of certain medications, such as antidepressants and painkillers, can be found in drinking water sources. The long-term effects of low-level exposure to these substances are not fully understood, but there is a potential for negative health impacts.

To address the issue of medication in wastewater, several treatment options have been implemented. One approach is the use of advanced treatment technologies, such as activated carbon filtration or ozonation, which can effectively remove a high percentage of pharmaceuticals from wastewater. However, these technologies can be expensive and may not be feasible for all treatment plants.

Another approach is the implementation of source control measures, such as proper disposal of unused medications and education campaigns to encourage proper disposal of PPCPs. Some countries have implemented take-back programs or special collection events to encourage the proper disposal of medications.

One recent study examined the effectiveness of a take-back program in reducing the levels of pharmaceuticals in wastewater in Sweden (Hansson et al., 2018). The study found that the program was successful in reducing the levels of several pharmaceuticals, including antidepressants and painkillers, in wastewater by up to 70%.

However, the issue of medication in wastewater is complex and requires a multi-faceted approach. In addition to advanced treatment technologies and source control measures, there is a need for more research on the occurrence and fate of pharmaceuticals in the environment, as well as their potential impacts on human health and the environment.

Overall, the presence of medication in sewage treatment has significant environmental and health implications. While advanced treatment technologies and source control measures can help reduce the levels of these substances in wastewater, more research and efforts are needed to fully address this issue.


Hansson, L., et al. (2018). Reduction of pharmaceuticals in wastewater by a Swedish national take-back programme. Science of The Total Environment, 622-623, 679-687.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in the Environment. Retrieved from

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