Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018MT322B

Student Research: Assessing pharmaceuticals in Montana’s waste water and drinking water to determine exposure risk, and inform targeted environmental and public health regulatory initiatives to protect Montanan communities

Institute: Montana
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $2,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $880

Principal Investigators: Miranda Margetts

Abstract: This project proposes to measure select Organic Wastewater Contaminants (OWCs), with a focus on opioid-based and estrogenic pharmaceuticals in pre- and post-wastewater effluence in wastewater treatment plants. The dual focus will assist with efforts to determine exposure risk, and inform targeted environmental and public health initiatives. A 2016 report from the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology and the Gallatin Local Water Quality District reported the highest OWC concentrations in Gallatin County in surface water downstream from wastewater treatment plants, consistent with results of previous studies screening for these compounds in US waterways (MGMB, 2016). Interestingly, OWCs were detected at three stream sites in Gallatin County with no direct wastewater input. The report recommended further studies be undertaken to determine OWCs impact on local aquatic biota, especially downstream of wastewater discharge sites (MGMB, 2016). While most prevalence data indicate low-levels of such compounds, our colleagues in the Water Quality Standards team at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality are partnering on this research due to their interest to determine whether current regulatory standards are indeed protective of both human and aquatic health. The investigation will also include an exposure assessment component using data from collaborators investigating low-level exposures to ethinyl estradiol (a potent endocrine disruptor considered carcinogenic given links to endometrial, ovarian and breast cancers) in conjunction with our concentration data, to determine whether concentrations are present at hazardous low-doses (Adeel et al, 2017).In addition to the collection of estrogenic chemicals, our project will also collect valuable information regarding opiate consumption rates. Given the urgency and health costs associated with the opioid epidemic occurring here in Montana (Montana Medical Association, 2017), we will also partner with public health experts who have expressed an interest to use the data to inform targeted drug interventions. Sewage drug biomarkers have been recently used to estimate illicit drug consumption at a community level in several cities worldwide (Castiglioni et al, 2013). These studies generally show good agreement with prevalence data from national epidemiological surveys demonstrating the potential of this approach to complement population surveys, crime statistics, medical records, and seizure data (van Nuijs et al, 2011). Therefore, (1) tracking aggregated use of select pharmaceuticals in pretreated waste-water will identify drug use trends from a collective population over time while protecting individual identity and (2) measuring post-wastewater effluence will identify pharmaceuticals not removed from waste water treatment systems that may lead to cumulative environmental risks to drinking water sources and the environment. These objectives can provide environmental concentration data of particular drugs to assist those agencies tasked with addressing the opioid crises and environmental agencies concerned with water quality risks.