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Prior art for the development of a fourth purification stage in wastewater treatment plant for the elimination of anthropogenic micropollutants-a short-review

Department of Chemistry and Institute for Coatings and Surface Chemistry, Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences, Department of Chemistry, Adlerstr. 32, 47798 Krefeld, Germany


The ubiquitous presence of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment is a worldwide problem of today. Current analytical methods reveal ever more pharmaceuticals in different water bodies. The concentrations in waters that are detectable reach nano-and picogram ranges, i.e., ppb and ppt levels. Observed concentrations amount to as high as few micrograms. Among the major entry paths are wastewater treatment plants, which are often unable to eliminate the pharmaceuticals sufficiently relying on their three conventional purification stages. Hence, pharmaceuticals enter the aquatic environment without desirable deconstruction. Thus, advanced wastewater treatment processes are under development to retain or eliminate these trace contaminants. According to Decision 2018/840, a watchlist of 15 contaminants of significant interest has been established for the monitoring of surface waters in the European Union. The contaminants include biocides and pharmaceuticals, among them three estrogens, estrone (E1), 17-β-estradiol (E2) and 17-α-ethinylestradiol, (EE2), the antibiotics azithromycin, clarithromycin and erythromycin of macrolide type, ciprofloxacin and amoxicillin of fluoroquinolone and betalactame type. This review will provide an overview of the currently explored and researched methods for the realization of a fourth purification stage in wastewater treatment plants. To this purpose, biological, chemical and physical purification processes are reviewed and their characteristics and potential discussed. The degradation efficacy of the pharmaceuticals on the EU-Watch list will be compared and evaluated with respect to the most promising processes, which might be realized on large scale. Last but not least, recent and novel pilot plants will be presented and discussed.

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