Pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants in the environment are a growing cause for concern. One particular issue is the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Agriculture is often noted as a source of excessive antibiotic use. Over 70% of all antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used in animal agriculture. Overuse can encourage the selection of antibiotic-resistant genes (ARG).
To better understand the relationship between agricultural contamination and ARG abundance over a year-long period, ISTC researchers Wei Zheng and Laurel Dodgen contributed to a project led by Marquette University Professor Krassimira R. Hristova. The study was designed to characterize the emerging chemical contaminants and ARG profiles of 20 surface water locations in an area of Kewaunee County, WI which has an abundance of large-scale farms and where cattle outnumber humans 5 to 1. The team focused primarily on pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and hormones. ISTC’s role was to analyze the PPCPs and hormones in the collected river water and sediment samples to help establish the relationship with ARG.
The results of the study were published in FEMS Microbiology Ecology in 2018. They suggest that Kewaunee County river sediments accumulate contaminants from non-point sources at a higher rate when manure is applied to farmland than when it is not. If these contaminants contain antibiotics, they can either directly increase or co-select for the increase of ARGs in the environment. The study provides a better understanding of how confined animal feeding operations and manure- fertilized farmland impact environmental and human health.
Zheng continues to collaborate with Marquette researchers to determine the chlortetracycline residues in river sediments and water samples and investigate its environmental fate and potential effects. The goal is to evaluate the relationship between the development of chlortetracycline-derived ARG and contaminant residues in the environment.
ECEC19 will be held on May 21-22, 2019, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign, IL. This year the conference will expand beyond the aquatic environment to also include air and soil studies along with effects on human and animal health.
The conference will feature presentations and posters on the latest in emerging contaminant research, policies, and outreach. In addition, there will be plenty of opportunities for discussion and networking with those interested in all aspects of emerging contaminants in the environment.
Researchers, educators, businesses, government officials, regulatory agencies, policy makers, outreach and extension professionals, environmental groups, members of the general public, and medical, veterinary, and public health professionals are encouraged to attend the conference.
When you dump expired cold syrup or rinse out an almost empty bottle of lotion into the sink, do you ever consider what chemicals are being introduced into the water supply?
The increase of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) entering public water systems was a problem that researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign challenged themselves to solve thanks to seed funding from the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE).
“PPCPs pose dangerous ecological and health effects on chronic exposure even if they are present in low concentrations,” said Dipanjan Pan, Associate Professor and the Director of Professional MS Program in Bioengineering. “We believe we have found a low-cost way to remove these harmful chemicals — and by making it biodegradable, we won’t be introducing any complications to wildlife.”
Team members from Pan Laboratory created a “smart filter,” called a Pharmaceutical Nano-CarboScavenger (PNC), that efficiently and safely removes carbamazepine (found in medications treating a wide-range of physical and mental health issues), gemfibrozil (found in cholesterol medication), and triclocarban (an antibacterial agent found in soaps and lotions) from water.
This filter is vastly different from your average water filter. It places activated charcoal and sand on top of the PNCs, which are carbon-filled cores made from agave. Water is allowed in, the activated charcoal removes heavy metals, the sand helps remove impurities and contaminants, and the PNCs scavenge through the water to remove the PPCP pollutants.
“A nanoengineered system that is based on an environmentally degradable system is a major and unmet need,” Zheng said. “The materials are derived from inexpensive natural sources and completely biodegradable, making this approach highly adaptable and environmentally friendly for mass processes.”
Other collaborators on the project: Indu Tripathi, former Postdoctoral Visiting Scholar in Bioengineering; Laurel K. Dodgen, former Illinois Postdoc and current Physical Scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior; Fatemeh Ostadhossein, M.S. and Ph.D. Candidate in Bioengineering; Santosh Misra, former iSEE Postdoctoral Researcher in Bioengineering; and Enrique Daza, a recent Bioengineering Ph.D. graduate and an M.B.A. Candidate from Pan’s lab.
Backed by iSEE funding, Pan’s Nano-CarboScavenger team also has explored remediating crude oil spills in water and had successes in the lab at clumping oil globules that could be scooped by a fine net — again, with the particles completely biodegradable and having no effect on wildlife if consumed. Pan and his team have also explored possible cancer treatments using nanoparticles.
The Illinois governor recently signed House Bill IL-HB5741 that amends the University of Illinois Scientific Surveys Act. The new section 21 asks the Prairie Research Institute (PRI), which was established under the Scientific Surveys Act in 2008, to conduct a scientific literature review of chemicals identified in wastewater treatment plant effluents that are recognized as contaminants of emerging concern. It also requests that PRI compile a listing of the specific actions recommended by various state and federal agencies to address the environmental or public health concerns associated with the chemicals. PRI will provide its impartial report to the General Assembly by June 30, 2020.
Although the law requests a literature review of contaminants of emerging concern associated with wastewater treatment plant effluent, these contaminants also enter the environment from other sources. These include non-point sources, such as agricultural fields, and other point sources, such as large animal feeding operations, septic systems, and industrial operations.
Is your medicine cabinet at home filled with old medications or prescription drugs you no longer use? You’re not alone. But how do we dispose of these medicines safely?
Many Americans find themselves in the exact situation every year and either flush the pills down the toilet or hang onto them, unsure if they may be useful in the future. However, the Illinois EPA warns against flushing drugs.They can get into the environment, harm wildlife and even pose challenges for drinking water treatment. And keeping medicines you no longer need can pose an unnecessary risk for accidental poisoning and abuse by children, teens, pets, and elderly, especially when stored in an easily accessible place like a family medicine cabinet or drawer.
In an interview with Environmental Leader, Walgreens’ senior vice president of pharmacy and healthcare, Rick Gates, acknowledged the growing concern over improper disposal and storage of medicines.
The best way to dispose of leftover and unwanted medications is to bring them to a medicine collection site. There are many located within Illinois, mostly in local law enforcement buildings. Accepted items at permanent collection boxes include prescription medications, all over-the-counter (OTC) medications, pet medications, vitamins and supplements, medicated ointments, creams, lotions, and oils, and liquid medication stored in leak-proof containers.
After the medications are deposited in the drop boxes, they are taken to an incineration facility to be destroyed. This process is more environmentally safe than other disposal methods and is “highly regulated” by the EPA.
In 2013, ISTC got involved in a new program within Champaign County to collect unwanted and old drugs. Goals of the program are to limit accidental poisonings of children and pets, prevent drug abuse, and reduce environmental impacts from improper disposal of medicines. Within Champaign-Urbana, you can now drop off unwanted medications at 3 locations – the police department lobbies in Champaign, Urbana, and on campus. These drop boxes are accessible 24 hours, seven days a week.
Walgreens and other pharmacies are also offering take-back programs to help their customers in the disposal process. Gates stated, “We’ve collected more than 155 tons of unwanted medication in first 18 months of the program, [which] goes to prove that there is a need in the marketplace.”
Twice per year, the U.S. DEA participates in the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, with the goal to help Americans dispose of potentially harmful prescription drugs and, ultimately, to reduce addiction and overdose deaths related to opioids. During the event last October, Americans returned a record of 456 tons of unwanted medications to the DEA and their local partners. The next event will take place on April 28, 2018.
If neither a permanent drop box nor take-back event are available in your area, you can purchase postage-paid mail-back envelopes for medicine, which are now available at many pharmacies. You can also dispose of the medicine in the trash if you follow Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s recommended tips.
Medicines that have expired, changed color, or have a “funny” smell should not be used and should be taken to a medicine collection site.
Prescription and OTC drugs, along with most items in your medicine cabinet, are considered Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs). The U.S. EPA has identified PPCPs as emerging contaminants of concern because the extent of these contaminants’ impact on the environment is still unknown.
A ban on the use of 24 antiseptic ingredients, including triclosan, for use in health care settings will take effect at the end of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last month. That extends a 2016 ban on Triclosan, and other active ingredients, from use in consumer products.
The action is the latest development in a long road of coping with the competing rights and responsibilities of marketplace innovation, regulatory power, public health, and rapid advances in our scientific ability to detect such compounds.
Since then triclosan and other antibacterials have continued to find their way into many consumer products. For example, Hasbro, the maker of Playskool toys, was fined in 1997 for false advertising because they claimed their toys made with antibacterials were safer for kids than those without.
Present in antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, and body washes, triclosan is considered a Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Product (PPCP), which the Water Quality Association defines as “products used by individuals for personal health/well-being or for cosmetic purposes.” PPCPs have been identified as emerging contaminants of concern by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because little is known about their impact on the environment or their risks to human health when released into the ecosystem.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the FDA in 2010 to force a decision on triclosan and other antibacterials. Four years later, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) supported the FDA’s original findings by reporting triclosan as one of the top contaminants of emerging concern detected in biosolids. The FDA finally made the decision to ban triclosan in consumer products in 2016; now in 2018, this ban will be extended to the medical industry.
Why all the concern? They are pervasive. The widespread use of triclosan and other antibacterials has left residues in our environment, as well as in our bodies. Using bio-monitoring, triclosan residue was detected in 75 percent of Americans over six years old. Thought to be absorbed through the skin, tests have found traces of triclosan in human blood, urine, and breast milk.
Also research at ISTC and elsewhere have shown PPCPs can act as endocrine disruptors (EDCs), which alter hormone functions. Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters the way hormones work in the body, which is alarming considering potential impacts on human health. To spread awareness of the most recent emerging contaminant research, policies, and education, ISTC is hosting its third conference on emerging contaminants this June 5-6.
ISTC has also sponsored research to study the impact of triclosan on the environment. A three-year study ran from 2009 to 2012 and involved researchers analyzing two rivers in the Chicago area receiving effluent from wastewater treatment plants. Effluent from wastewater treatment plants can serve as a point source for a range of pollutants, including PPCPs. When analyzing the rivers, researchers found that increased exposure to triclosan was linked to both an increase in triclosan resistance and a decrease in biodiversity within the benthic bacterial communities. These results show that the common and widespread use of triclosan could have negative ecological consequences.
Further laboratory studies have matched ISTC’s suggestion that triclosan may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance has significant impacts to human health, as it could diminish the effectiveness of some medical treatments, including antibiotic treatments.
Despite being used for the past four decades, manufacturers have proven neither the effectiveness nor the safety of long-term use of triclosan. The FDA has determined that antibacterial soap is no more effective than plain soap and water and challenged the industry to demonstrate otherwise.
Excluded from the new regulative action are six antiseptic active ingredients: ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, povidone-iodine, benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol. The FDA said further research is needed before commenting on the safety or effectiveness of these six ingredients.
The new FDA rule will go into effect Dec. 20, 2018.
Scientists from seven Chinese universities visited the University of Illinois July 11-13 to compare research goals and approaches in their efforts for cleaner air, water and soil.
The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) China Workshop deepened relationships begun in recent years by environmental experts of both countries to strengthen scientific collaborations. The workshop examined environmental concerns about air, water, and soil pollution that are of mutual interest to help solve a wide range of critical issues in these areas.
The Chinese visitors represented the College of Civil Engineering at Nanjin University, Jiangsu Insitute of Environmental Industry, the College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Tongji University, the School of Environmental Engineering and Sciences of North China Electric Power University, the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Peking University, Chongqing Institute of Green and intelligent Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the School of Space and Environment at Beihang University, and Beijing Dopler Eco-Technologies Co.
The visitors also sampled a number of high-profile U of I research projects including agricultural enhancement at SoyFace (top), weather and air quality monitoring (second from top) and (third from top) soil reclamation (Mud-to-Parks dredging project at Lake Decatur).
Wide-ranging technical presentations during the workshop included focuses on:
• air pollution modeling, health effects and remediation;
• surface and groundwater contamination and new treatment strategies; and
• soil contamination prevention and remediation.
Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin (bottom) welcomed the Chinese scientists, describing the long history of friendship and cooperation between cities and universities in China.
Rising concerns among environmental scientists over a multitude of contaminants found in water and aquatic life and their impact on human health have prompted ISTC to partner with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant to host an upcoming conference titled, “Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment.” The two-day conference will be packed with many experts, including four keynote presentations by researchers from the U.S.EPA, Loyola University Chicago, USGS, and the National Sea Grant Law Center. The oral presentations will cover a variety of viewpoints, namely research, policy, and education & outreach.
Contaminants of emerging concern, as defined by the USGS, are
“…any synthetic or naturally occurring chemical or any microorganism that is not commonly monitored in the environment but has the potential to enter the environment and cause known or suspected adverse ecological and (or) human health effects.”
In some cases, a contaminant could have been entering the environment for decades or centuries but only recently has been detected or environmental impacts been attributed to that compound. Some of the contaminants that will be discussed at the conference include pharmaceuticals, over-the-counter medicines, personal care products, agrichemicals, microplastics, coal-tar sealants, flame retardants, and many more.
Government leaders, policy makers, public health professionals, researchers, environmental organizations, educators, students, and members of the public are all encouraged to attend the conference. It will provide an opportunity for discussion and collaboration with those from a wide range of fields in research, policy, and education & outreach. The conference will be held from May 31 to June 1, 2017, at the I Hotel & Conference Center in Champaign, IL.
Americans landfilled 136 million tons of material in 2014. Food, plastics, and in fact, most of what was landfilled could have been recycled or composted. Of particular concern is the more than four percent of waste classified as ‘other,’ which includes pharmaceuticals and personal-care products.
A recent article, “Pharmaceuticals and Other Chemicals Common in Landfill Waste,” brings light to the fact that rain water filtering through a landfill picks up chemicals and exits the landfill as ‘leachate.’ While treatment of the leachate and NPDES permitting is required, questions about how these chemicals affect the environment still remain.
The USGS sampled 19 landfill leachates before treatment and found 129 different pharmaceutical (prescription and non-prescription), household, and industrial chemicals. The three chemicals detected in 95 percent of the samples were bisphenol A (used in plastics, thermal paper, and epoxy resins; 4 parts per million), DEET (insect repellent; 250 parts per billion), and cotinine (transformation product of nicotine; 50 parts per billion).
In order to help address some of these questions and many more, ISTC is partnering with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) to host the “Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment Conference” on May 31 and June 1, 2017, in Champaign, IL. Conference registration will begin in mid-February. Topics will include research, policy, management, outreach, and education concerning emerging contaminant detection, fate, transport, remediation, prevention, or related areas.
The ISTC Sustainability Seminar Series continues on Thursdays this fall with the theme “Contaminants in the Environment.” The schedule of seminar speakers is below. To be added to the seminar and events email list or to receive links to the live broadcasts of the seminars, please contact Beth Meschewski at firstname.lastname@example.org.