January 11, 2023
A new study conducted by researchers from Pennsylvania State has found that the cocktail of drugs used to treat COVID-19 infection survive wastewater treatment and hence find their way to waterways where they pose a threat to aquatic life.
Drugs such as dexamethasone, remdesivir, antibiotics, and pain medications were used in significantly high amounts to treat COVID-19 infections between 2019 to 2021. These drugs have been excreted by humans into wastewater and persist despite wastewater treatment. Hence, they have been found to occur in wastewater at levels that are high enough to endanger aquatic life.
This finding underscores the need for wastewater testing to safeguard the well-being of the ecosystem. The results of this study were published in the Journal of Environmental Quality in September 2022. The world is just recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the full repercussions are yet to be understood. The pandemic caused a sharp spike in the use of pharmaceuticals that were used to manage symptoms of the infection. Patients with mild symptoms were treated with pain relievers such as naproxen and acetaminophen while hospitalized patients were put on antibiotics, antivirals such as remdesivir, and steroids such as dexamethasone. Some patients were also put on hydroxychloroquine, but later this drug was found to be ineffective against COVID-19 infection.
This study was carried out by a large team of skilled researchers from Penn State Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It started in May 2020 and concluded a year later, in May 2021. During this period, the researchers collected samples of wastewater from two Central Pennsylvania wastewater treatment plants on a weekly basis. The samples included both influent (incoming) and effluent (outgoing) from the two plants, one of which was based in a hospital.
The wastewater was analyzed for the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the influent. They also analyzed a variety of COVID-19 medications in both the influent and effluent at the two wastewater treatment plants.
Heather Preisendanz, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Penn State believes that the presence of high levels of pharmaceuticals used to treat COVID-19 in wastewater is a hazard. “This knowledge spurred concerns that increased use of pharmaceuticals during the pandemic could also lead to increased concentrations of these drugs in wastewater treatment plant effluent and potentially harm aquatic life,” she said.
The following are the key findings from the study:
The following observations were made about the risks to aquatic life posed by COVID-19 pharmaceuticals:
From the observations above, it is clear that COVID-19 pharmaceuticals pose a significant threat to aquatic life.
Laboratories that conduct wastewater testing provide helpful and actionable information on the quality and safety of wastewater that may find its way to waterways and endanger aquatic life. A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) enables laboratories to automate and streamline their processes including sample tracking, importing of test results from analytical instruments, and reporting of test results to clients and regulatory agencies. A LIMS for wastewater testing also supports full compliance with regulatory requirements and helps meet complex data management requirements. A cloud-based LIMS for wastewater testing offers a turnkey solution for higher throughput and maximum productivity for laboratories that test wastewater.
From the study, it is clear that COVID-19 pharmaceuticals easily find their way into water bodies and hence pose a threat to aquatic life. Frequent water surveillance and testing are necessary to determine their concentrations and to initiate necessary action should they exceed the acceptable safety threshold. A Water LIMS enables wastewater testing laboratories to accurately test wastewater samples and digitize operations for maximum efficiency.