Evaluation of a Novel Approach for Reducing Emissions of Pharmaceuticals to the Environment

Thomas G. Bean*, Ed Bergstrom, Jane Thomas-Oates, Amy Wolff, Peter Bartl, Bob Eaton, Alistair B A Boxall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increased interest over the levels of pharmaceuticals detected in the environment has led to the need for new approaches to manage their emissions. Inappropriate disposal of unused and waste medicines and release from manufacturing plants are believed to be important pathways for pharmaceuticals entering the environment. In situ treatment technologies, which can be used on-site in pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and at manufacturing plants, might provide a solution. In this study we explored the use of Pyropure, a microscale combined pyrolysis and gasification in situ treatment system for destroying pharmaceutical wastes. This involved selecting 17 pharmaceuticals, including 14 of the most thermally stable compounds currently in use and three of high environmental concern to determine the technology’s success in waste destruction. Treatment simulation studies were done on three different waste types and liquid, solid, and gaseous emissions from the process were analyzed for parent pharmaceutical and known active transformation products. Gaseous emissions were also analyzed for NOx, particulates, dioxins, furans, and metals. Results suggest that Pyropure is an effective treatment process for pharmaceutical wastes: over 99 % of each study pharmaceutical was destroyed by the system without known active transformation products being formed during the treatment process. Emissions of the other gaseous air pollutants were within acceptable levels. Future uptake of the system, or similar in situ treatment approaches, by clinics, pharmacists, and manufacturers could help to reduce the levels of pharmaceuticals in the environment and reduce the economic and environmental costs of current waste management practices.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Management
Early online date24 Jun 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jun 2016

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  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Pharmaceutical waste
  • Pyrolysis–gasification
  • Stewardship
  • Take-back strategy
  • Thermal decomposition

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