IHS Chemical Week


Pharmaceuticals in the Water

10:06 AM MDT | April 23, 2009 | By GIRISH MALHOTRA

Every so often we read about how pharmaceuticals are being discharged into global water systems. It’s good that we’re being told and reminded that this is a problem we’ve created for ourselves. Unless these pharmaceuticals are removed from water, they will accumulate to a level that will have ill effects on both our bodies and our ecosystems.

There are two distinct issues here, and they really should be separated. Every article I’ve read combines the two issues – this makes it more difficult to find a real solution to the problem.

The two issues are:

1) Pharmaceuticals in water due to humans discarding them. There are no laws to control these discharges.

2) Pharmaceuticals from the manufacturing plants leaking into water. Regulatory bodies have guidelines and laws to control BOD (biological oxygen demand), COD (chemical oxygen demand), and suspended and dissolved solids to certain levels. There is no incentive for companies that abide by the rules to cut toxic chemical levels any further.

We can analyze and talk about the toxicity of pharmaceuticals and their ill effects on humans and eco-systems, but if there are no laws to control them, little will be done.

Talk, unfortunately, is cheap. Yes, manufacturing process efficiencies need to be improved, but if I can make my profit margin and meet the water discharge regulations, there’s no reason for me to spend extra money to ensure water safety. There’s simply no prospect of a return on such an investment.

Conscience does matter to a certain extent, but economics drive these decisions.

Unless we make a concerted effort to fix this problem, we are going to see another Patancheru. The ball is in our court.

Girish Malhotra, PE
EPCOT International

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