As awareness of environmental issues increases worldwide, the industry will face ever more stringent regulations on pollution. The implications for wastewater plant design are clear. Veolia Water Solutions & Technology’s Eñaut Anderson shows you how to clean up your act.

Global awareness of environmental issues is a rising factor facing the pharmaceuticals industry.

Individuals are more sensitive to sustainable development and the traces of pharmaceuticals found in rivers and drinking water have drawn closer public attention.

From a wastewater management perspective, this is only one of the issues. Regulation is about to enter a new stage and will become yet more stringent in the coming years. The major shift is likely to be the appearance of limits for specific contaminants, to complement current global pollution measurements, such as COD and BOD5. Measuring micro-pollutants (endocrine-disrupting compounds, antibiotics, tranquillisers, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc) and their metabolites, as well as being able to design efficient treatment plants, will all be part of the challenge. And the focus will not be only on water. Sludge will also come under closer scrutiny. In this context, the cost of wastewater treatment will continue to rise. More than ever, it will be essential for all new investment to take long-term change into account.

Thinking outside the box

Wastewater management is shifting from the old model of end-of-pipe general wastewater treatment plants to upstream segregation of effluents and more specialised treatment systems to remove well-targeted pollutants.

Thanks to segregation, advanced treatment of highly polluted streams will be technically efficient and economically viable. Oxidation, evaporation, incineration, but also liquid-liquid extraction applied to wastewater and the Macro Porous Polymer Extraction system, are among the technologies that will emerge. Offsite destruction of these concentrated streams will also become a more costcompetitive alternative. As for biological technologies, more efficient solutions such as membrane bioreactors and Moving Bed Biofilm Reactors (MBBR) will probably complete or replace large conventional activated sludge reactors to achieve more flexibility and reliability.

Choosing the right technologies and combining them properly will remain critical. In fact, the wide fluctuations in variety and concentration of contaminants in pharmaceutical effluents call for tailor-made treatments. Veolia Water Solutions & Technology R&D effort is focusing on these issues in its international research centres and through partnerships such as the PHARMA Treat project in Germany. This expertise is essential to determine the best treatment system.

The AstraZeneca treatment plant in Södertälje, Sweden, is an example of how a step-by-step approach, with intensive laboratory and pilot tests, led to an efficient solution to treat highly toxic wastewater, using MBBR technology. The AnoxKaldnes NatrixTM biological process (in six steps) showed only certain micro-fungi could break down toxic compounds. MBBR fungal growth was promoted in the first three stages, then bacterial growth in the final three (to remove residual organic compounds). The result was totally detoxified wastewater with overall TOC removal of 97%.

Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies (VWS), with its sound understanding of technical and regulatory developments, full portfolio of technologies, strong R&D capabilities, experienced staff and worldwide presence, is in a position to put into effect the correct answers to the pharmaceutical wastewater challenges that lie ahead.