Monday, March 11, 2013
A man-made wetland outside of Waco, Texas could be the key to uncovering natural ways to prevent pharmaceuticals from entering the rivers and lakes near wastewater treatment plants. The planned 12-acre wetland is part of a 5-year project designed to give researchers a closer look at whether aquatic plants and micro-organisms common in wetlands can safely break down pharmaceutical chemicals that survive the wastewater treatment process. The results of the study could help communities across the country improve water quality without the high cost of additional wastewater treatment equipment.
The wetland will serve as an outdoor laboratory for researchers at Baylor University. Treated water from the Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewer System–with small concentrations of pharmaceuticals added to it–will be funneled into the contained area and allowed to filter through it for several days. After researchers have tested for remaining pharmaceutical compounds, the water will be sent back to the treatment plant and then released into the Brazos River.
The project is backed by the U.S. Geological Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, a branch of the Department of the Interior. Construction of the wetland is slated to begin later this year, as soon as federal officials have secured the $1.5 million needed for the project.
Wetlands like the one planned for Waco are already being used by some communities as an efficient and cost-saving method for removing pharmaceuticals and other pollutants from wastewater effluent. In Minoa, a village in western New York, small wetlands near the treatment plant have been shown to remove up to 60 percent of ibuprofen from the village's wastewater before it is discharged into a nearby stream.
Click here to learn more about the Waco project. And, for a behind-the-scenes look at research into how pharmaceuticals breakdown during the wastewater treatment process, read UpClose with Timothy Strathmann.