Pharmaceutical residues treatment

Pharmaceutical residues in wastewater streams present major environmental problems. Substances such as antibiotics (e.g. Amoxicillin and Ciprofloxacin), beta blockers and drugs like morphine and codeine are difficult and often impossible to treat in wastewater treatment plants due to their complex chemical structures. Such substances have an adverse effect on fish, plants and whole ecosystems and accumulate over time due to their non-biodegradable characteristics.

Pharmaceutical ozone treatment

Bacteria may also develop resistance to antibiotics, hence it is a major contributor to the growing global issue of non-effective antibiotic treatment among humans. In hospitals, Iodinated Contrast Media (ICM) has proven difficult to treat by traditional means.

A number of techniques exist today which may act as a complement to secondary, biological treatment found in wastewater treatment plants.

Powdered Activated Carbon (PAC)

PAC acts as an effective micropollutant filter and can be used as a tertiary treatment step in wastewater treatment. It may remove up to 86% of pharmaceutical residues by adsorption and provides not only transformation of target substances but removal.


UV is a cost-efficient way of treating clear wastewater but has limited ability to break down pharmaceutical residues. It has been reported by Kovalova, et al .(2013) that 33% of micropollutants can be removed on average by applying this technology. UV may effectively remove ICM using high dosages, such as Diatrizoate and Iopamidol.

Ozone treatment

Ozone is a potent oxidizing agent which effectively breaks up the chemical bonds in complex molecules, which makes it an efficient method to remove pharmaceuticals in the wastewater. Ozone can also be used in Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOP) to boost radical formation in addition to the natural formation during ozone reactions. It has been shown that up to 100% of pharmaceutical micropullutants can be removed using ozone. Commonly applied range is 0.3 to 1.2 g O3/g DOC (Dissolved Organic Carbon) according to Barasel, et al. (2015).

Ozonetech has conducted a number of projects with 100% removal of pharmaceutical residues in the process water. The figure below displays actual break-down of a common pharmaceutical residue by ozone and ozone-AOP processes.

Pharmaceutical residues treatment with ozone

Ozone is highly effective against most pharmaceuticals found in manufacturing waste process water and at wastewater treatment plants.

Major sources of pharmaceutical residues


Pharmaceuticals can be found in natural waters as a result of flushing down leftover products at private homes but a large source is hospitals. Therefore ozone technology should be considered to enhance the performance of hospital wastewater treatment plants or as tertiary at municipal wastewater treatment works. It has been found that hospitals contribute to around 20% of the pharmaceutical load in sewer streams as reported by EU The PILLS-Project.

Pharmaceutical emissions from stream that can be prevented with ozone treatment

Pharmaceutical industry

In the pharmaceutical industry, measures can be taken to eliminate pharmaceutical residues from the production process wastewater. The industry is a major source of pharmaceutical micro-pollutants which can be identified in municipal wastewater treatment plants. There is an increasing demand on manufacturers to eliminate pharmaceutical residues prior to emitting the process wastewater.

There are three main methods available to treat residues at the manufacturing site:

Methods for treating pharmaceutical residues at manufacturer: benefits and challenges.

Method Benefits Challenge
Incineration of process wastewater containing micro-pollutant Treatment conducted on-site. No costs for transportation to and handling of third party. Costly. Heating and evaporating water and subsequently incinerating pharmaceutical residues is associated with very high energy consumption. May require high foot print and new mechanical installation.
Destruction off-site. Transportation to third-party recycling company. Scheduled shipping and destruction handled by third party. Very high costs. Fees and costs relating to third-party handling. Requires buffer tank and handling of process water between collection of process water.
Ozone treatment of pharmaceutical residues Treatment conducted on-site and on demand. System foot print less than 4 sqm. Very low operational cost. Safe. Paypack 0.5-2 years. New mechanical installation but at a low footprint.

Ozone technology provides a cost-effective alternative to traditional destruction by incineration. Ozonetech employs the RENA CIP or RENA AOP engineered systems to break down these micropollutants which will save large amounts of the operational costs associated with destruction. The figure below displays estimations for operational costs, comparing the heating and evaporating of process water and ozone treatment for micropollutants. Note that any handling costs for off-site inciniration destruction are not included in the comparison below.

Energy saving: Ozone vs incineration for pharmaceutical residues treatment

The graph illustrates operational costs for eliminating pharmaceutical micropollutants by ozone treatment or incineration. Even though process wastewater flow typically range between 0.5-2 m3/day at a pharmaceutical plant, the associated costs are potentially high. This can be avoided with ozone treatment.


Ozone has been proven to molecularly break down dozens of widely used pharmaceuticals such as:

  • Paracetamol
  • Codeine
  • Propofol
  • Diclophenac

Read more about Ozone Treatment for Pharmaceutical Residues.

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