New Waves March 2011

Breaking news about water resources research and education in Texas

TWRI grant recipient studies biotransformation of PPCPs

By Melanie Orth

Deborah Carr, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Toxicology at Texas Tech University, worked with her advising professor, Dr. Todd Anderson, to determine the role of soil bacteria and fungi to degrade common pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in treated wastewater used as irrigation.

Carr received a 2009-10 Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) research grant. The $5,000 grant allowed her to investigate the long-term fate of PPCPs in the soil from a large municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluent land application site prior to the effluent stream recharging drinking water source aquifers or being discharged to downstream surface waters, Carr said.

Carr said her research results showed a high potential for the soil microorganisms to rapidly degrade single compound estrogens and antibiotics and a lower potential to degrade estrogen and antibiotic mixtures.

The concentrations of these chemicals leaving water treatment facilities and staying in the environment have profound implications for water quality and health standards, she said.

“As water supplies become more limiting (especially in the arid Southwest) and water re-use practices increase, PPCPs in municipal water supplies and the level of effluent treatment become an important human and environmental health issue,” she said.

“While the reports of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water sources is troubling, there are economical approaches to eliminating these compounds from effluent before it reaches a downstream drinking water source,” she said. “At the same time the use of treated effluent water to maintain public green spaces will not create an exposure risk of these pharmaceuticals in the soils.”

Carr is continuing her research and trains undergraduate and graduate students in areas of environmental processes and sustainability.

This project was funded by TWRI with funds obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as part of the National Institutes for Water Research annual research program. TWRI is the designated institute for water resources research in Texas.

For more information on Carr’s research and to read her final report, visit the TWRI USGS Research Grants webpage.

Back to Top