Researchers in the U.K. are working on a revolutionary approach to water contamination, investigating the possibility of unleashing “supermolecules” to hunt down and rout out pollution.
The scientists from the University of Surrey published their findings in the European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences this year. The study focuses on the possibility of treating pharmaceuticals in water with this approach.
Researchers, policy officials, and environmentalists say drugs are escaping wastewater treatment processes and contaminating rivers and streams. “Most treatment plants lack the often-expensive technologies necessary to filter out [pharmaceuticals] and other potentially dangerous ‘chemicals of emerging concern,’” Ars Technica explained in a recent close-up on water contamination. The practice of dumping untreated sewage also presents an opportunity for pharmaceuticals to enter the environment.
A new kind of “supermolecule,” referred to as “calix,” may be able to help with this problem.
Danil de Namor, a researcher who worked on the University of Surrey project, explained the significance of this avenue of research:
Preliminary extraction data are encouraging as far as the use of this receptor for the selective removal of these drugs from water and the possibility of constructing a calix-based sensing devices. From here, we can design receptors so that they can bind selectively with pollutants in the water so the pollutants can be effectively removed. This research will allow us to know exactly what is in the water, and from here it will be tested in industrial water supplies, so there will be cleaner water for everyone. The research also creates the possibility of using these materials for on-site monitoring of water, without having to transport samples to the laboratory.
As Water Online previously reported, recent research suggests that "exposure to PPCPs [pharmaceuticals and personal care products] in drinking water may subject humans, particularly males, to gender-morphing and other reproductive system alteration."
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Image credit: "Erich Ferdinand," Pills (white rabbit) © 2006, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/