Despo Fatta-Kassinos talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Fast Breaking Paper Paper in the field of
Environment/Ecology. The author has also sent along an image of
Article Title: Removal of residual pharmaceuticals from
aqueous systems by advanced oxidation processes
Authors: Klavarioti, M;Mantzavinos, D;Kassinos,
Journal: ENVIRON INT, Volume: 35, Issue: 2, Page: 402-417
Year: FEB 2009
* Univ Cyprus, Dept Civil & Environm Engn, 75 Kallipoleos,
CY-1678 Nicosia, Cyprus.
* Univ Cyprus, Dept Civil & Environm Engn, CY-1678 Nicosia,
* Tech Univ Crete, Dept Environm Engn, GR-73100 Chania, Greece.
Why do you think your paper is highly
Over the past several years, pharmaceuticals are considered as an emerging
environmental problem due to their continuous input and persistence into
the aquatic ecosystem even at low concentrations (Fig. 1). This continuous
release into the environment may constitute a long-term potential risk for
aquatic and terrestrial organisms.
In addition, due to water scarcity, treated wastewater reuse schemes for
irrigation or aquifer replenishment are widely implemented nowadays,
contributing to the release of such compounds into the environment. The
wastewater/water conventional treatment systems are not capable of
completely removing xenobiotic compounds and therefore, more advanced
systems are required.
Advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) are technologies based on the
intermediacy of hydroxyl and other radicals to oxidize recalcitrant, toxic,
and non-biodegradable compounds to various byproducts and eventually to
Although the environmental applications of AOPs are numerous, including
water and wastewater treatment (i.e., removal of organic and inorganic
pollutants and pathogens), air pollution abatement and soil remediation,
they have only recently been employed for the abatement of pollution caused
by the presence of residual pharmaceuticals in waters.
Our paper reviews and assesses the effectiveness of various AOPs for the
removal of pharmaceuticals from aqueous systems, thereby providing
researchers with a quick overview of what has been achieved thus far in
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
Description: Sources and fate of pharmaceutical compounds
in the environment.
It is a synthesis of knowledge on what is currently known and what has been
achieved so far with regards to the application of AOPs towards the removal
of pharmaceuticals from aqueous matrices.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman’s terms?
Pharmaceuticals, which are designed to be biologically active substances,
are usually lipophilic and resistant to biodegradation, thus having the
potential for accumulation and persistence in the environment. Although
they appear at relatively low concentrations ranging between ng/L and
µg/L levels, they may have the potential to impose serious effects on
the environment. Searching for suitable technologies to destroy these types
of xenobiotics, this paper presents and assesses the capability of AOPs to
treat such substances.
How did you become involved in this research, and
were there any problems along the way?
For much of the last 30 years, research on the effects of chemical
pollution in the environment has focused almost exclusively on conventional
"priority" pollutants. However, during the last several years, there has
been a growing level of concern related to the hypothesis that various
chemicals may exhibit endocrine-disrupting effects. This is due to
increased incidences of endocrine-related diseases in humans, including
declining male fertility, and more significantly, to adverse physiological
effects observed in wildlife where cause and effect relationships are more
In addition to this, thousands of tons of pharmacologically active
substances are used annually, but surprisingly little is known about the
ultimate fate of most drugs after their intended use. As the use of
cosmetics and antibiotics grows, increasing quantities of their active
organic ingredients are released into the environment through wastewater
Triggered by the important recent findings of various research groups in
Europe and the US concerning the removal efficiencies of such compounds in
both drinking water and urban sewage treatment works, our work embraced
this research direction. Studying this field, we have found advanced
chemical oxidation processes (AOPs) quite fascinating since they employ
chemical, photochemical, and sonochemical techniques to bring about
chemical degradation/mineralization of such pollutants. This paper
constitutes the platform for taking this research field a few steps forward
and, because of the international interest in this particular field, our
work is well-funded so far.
Where do you see your research leading in the
Our research will further explore the mechanisms and kinetics of the
oxidation of xenobiotic compounds through the application of advanced
chemical treatment systems, either as stand-alone processes, or in
combination with other conventional treatment trains. Toxicity and other
types of evaluation of the potency of oxidation byproducts will continue to
constitute one of our main objectives as well.
Do you foresee any social or political
implications for your research?
Exploring and understanding the capability of such systems to treat water
and wastewater so as to produce water free from xenobiotics will
potentially provide a guideline for people to help prevent the release of
these byproducts into the environment. This effort is currently being
undertaken by a number of research groups throughout the world.
Despo Fatta-Kassinos, Ph.D. University of
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering