Ruth Marfil-Vega is an Environmental Scientist at American Water. She studies the fate and treatment of emerging and unregulated trace contaminants in environmental systems. Prior to joining AW, she was an ORISE postdoctoral fellow at the US EPA Office of Research and Development. She received a PhD in Environmental Science from the University of Cincinnati and a BSc in Chemistry from the University of Valladolid (Spain).
Hospital Wastewater: a Relevant Source of Constituents of Emerging Concern to the Water Cycle?
Research has clearly shown that wastewater is a source of Constituents of Emerging Concern (CECs) of chemical (x-ray contrast media, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, detergent by-products, etc) and microbial origin (pathogens and antibiotic resistance genes). There is limited understanding of how hospitals currently manage their wastewater discharges and, consequently, whether these facilities contribute significant loads of CECs to the influents of the receiving municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). The present project aims to provide an evaluation of the current wastewater treatment practices in hospitals and to identify information gaps that may require further research on CECs management (e.g. wastewater pretreatment, pharmaceutical take-back) at those facilities. Preliminary findings from the project indicated that the concern about CECs and other water quality issues related to the wastewater discharges among the facilities management at hospitals is less of a priority than energy and water conservation, or ensuring drinking water supply during emergency situations. This is likely driven by the fact that the majority of hospitals (99.8%) were found to be indirect dischargers subjected to very generic regulatory requirements; additionally, their current minimal treatment practices (e.g. pH adjustment) were sufficient to comply with the regulation. Although generally hospitals are embracing greening efforts to minimize waste generation and are managing non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste together with hazardous waste, it was determined that some facilities still recommended disposal down the drain of unused non-hazardous pharmaceuticals (per the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act's definition). A limited experimental study where selected CECs are being determined in the effluents from two hospitals and their receiving WWTPs is on-going. The first location selected represents a small community with a large contribution from the hospital to the sewer system; and the second is a large municipality in which the hospital's wastewater accounts for a small fraction of the daily sewer flow. These results will provide an initial estimation of the mass contribution of CECs from hospitals to the full water cycle, to ultimately design the best management practices for CECs. A detailed discussion of the overall outcomes from the project will be shared in this presentation, including recommendations for increasing the partnership between health care providers and the water and wastewater management sectors.