Lead researchers Professor Rakesh Kanda and Professor Susan Jobling
Lead researchers Professor Rakesh Kanda and Professor Susan Jobling. Photo copyright Brunel University London.

Research at the U.K.’s Brunel University London and Carnegie Mellon University in the United States could lead to an effective new way of removing endocrine disrupting hormones and pharmaceuticals from wastewater.

Experts in aquatic toxicity at Brunel University London tested the efficacy and safety of TAML activators: tiny man-made catalysts that activate nature’s own oxidants, hydrogen peroxide and oxygen. In tests on U.K. municipal wastewater samples, these iron-based catalysts — developed by Professor Terence Collins at Carnegie Mellon University — effectively removed the contraceptive pill hormone ethynylestradiol (EE2) and other micropollutants.

Tests also showed that feminization of male fish in the water was significantly reversed after treating the water with the catalysts, with no discernible adverse effects.

Susan Jobling, a professor in ecotoxicology at Brunel University, explained: “We’ve found TAML activators to be safe and effective, which opens the door to large-scale improvements in wastewater treatment which could be achieved by retro-fitting TAML treatment rather than building expensive high-energy plants. This could revolutionise how we clean our water.

“Preliminary research suggests they would be equally effective against pollution caused by antimicrobials in personal care products and antibiotic pharmaceuticals. This is particularly relevant for halting the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria.”

The researchers believe that TAML activators could be used to upgrade wastewater treatment plants as an alternative to ozone or carbon-activated treatment technology. Just a kilogram of catalyst could treat tens of thousands of tons of wastewater, Brunel University London said.

Dr. Ian Walker, technical director at environmental consultancy WRc plc, commented: “This research addresses a key problem for the wastewater treatment sector. Current solutions are expensive to operate and costly to implement; the application of these novel catalysts offers real hope for a long-term resolution of problem micropollutants. I will be looking at how this technology develops from the laboratory scale and recommend that the wastewater companies take a very close interest too.”