Investments in purification of medicine residues from waste water

In the years ahead, the Netherlands will be facing the need for substantial investments in clean water and safe drinking water. As the district water boards are struggling with medicine residues in sewage water, the Cabinet has allocated a sum of 30 million euros to help them build purification plants to field-test new filtration technologies.

At a water conference yesterday, Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen (Infrastructure and Water Management) announced that the Aa en Maas district water board in the province of Brabant will be the first to receive a grant to this end. The district water board will receive 400 thousand euros to build an innovative purification plant in Aarle-Rixtel, which will feature a relatively simple method to filter medicine residues from waste water.

Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen: ‘Currently, 140 thousand kilos of medicine residues end up in our water annually. Hospitals and pharmacies are already taking significant steps to reduce the volume of residues disappearing into the sewer systems, but this constitutes only part of the solution. The only way to prevent medicine residues from ending up in our ditches and rivers is by purifying waste water. I have set aside 30 million euros for district water boards willing to go the extra mile, which will enable them to quickly build new plants.’

Aa en Maas pilot project

The Aarle-Rixtel purification plant purifies waste water and subsequently discharges it into the River Aa, which then flows towards the River Meuse. As the Meuse is used as a source of drinking water, it is imperative to keep the medicine residue level to a minimum. In the year ahead, the Aa en Maas district water board is going to investigate whether additional purification can remove more medicine residues from the water before it is discharged into the Aa. The pilot plant is going employ the UV-H2O2 technology to test whether filtration using UV light coupled with hydrogen peroxide will make it possible to remove up to eighty per cent of medicine residues from the water.

Increasing use of medicines

The use of medicines will continue to increase, primarily because of population ageing. As some medications are degraded or not fully absorbed by the human body, their residues end up in the sewage via the lavatory. Currently, not all medicine residues can be purified from the sewage; via the purification plants, such residues now flow into the surface water. If we do not succeed in developing new purification methods, the accumulation of medicine residues may pose problems for fish populations. Furthermore, in the long run the purification of tap water will become increasingly expensive.