The dangers of pharmaceuticals, insecticides for human health, the environment


With the presence of pharmaceuticals and insecticides in the environment becoming an emerging threat to human health and ecology, Cal State Fullerton environmental engineer Sudarshan Kurwadkar is looking for solutions.

“We should be very concerned about the presence of bioactive compounds, such as antibiotics, hormones, endocrine disruptors and other drugs in the environment,” Kurwadkar said. “These compounds are designed to elicit a response at low levels of concentration. Thus, their presence in the aquatic environment has an immediate biological impact which is of great concern.

Kurwadkar recently delivered the inaugural L. Donald Shields Excellence in Scholarship and Creativity Award titled “Environmental Occurrence of Contaminant of Emerging Concern – Human Health and Ecological Consequences”. He is the 2020 recipient of the University’s Shields Prize, awarded to a faculty member for outstanding scholarship and / or creative activity.

The virtual conference took place during Research Week this spring, presented by the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects. Watch the lecture below.

Kurwadkar, professor of civil and environmental engineering, explained how pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, pain relievers and hormones, commonly used in human therapy, end up in drinking water and wastewater treatment systems. . These systems are primarily designed to remove organics and are inadequate for removing low levels of pharmaceutical compounds, he explained.

Likewise, insecticides used in vineyards, citrus orchards and other farms are becoming part of the environment.

Pharmaceuticals in the environment graphic illustration
This illustration shows the sources and pathways of bioactive compounds, such as pharmaceuticals, that enter the wastewater treatment system and eventually reach soil, groundwater, and surface water. The long-term persistence of these compounds in the environment potentially results in superbugs resistant to most common antibiotics.

“We have to stop creating pollution to begin with – instead of controlling pollution after the fact,” he said.

The main teachings of Kurwadkar from his lecture are:

  • Pharmaceuticals are used in human and animal therapy. Poor wastewater management and misuse, overuse and improper disposal of unused drugs have resulted in widespread contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water.
  • The presence of bioactive compounds such as antibiotics, hormones, and pain relievers could disrupt the ecology and breed antimicrobial resistant microorganisms called ARMs.
  • The growth of ARM is one of the top 10 global health problems with the potential to become a global epidemic if left unchecked.
  • Antimicrobials provide an effective defense against opportunistic infections. The widespread presence of these compounds in the environment could destroy our most common survival weapon, antibiotics.
  • Careful use in human and animal therapy and safe disposal of unused pharmaceuticals could prevent antimicrobial pollution in the environment.

Kurwadkar received a scholarship from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine as part of his National Research Council Research Associates programs. He is currently on sabbatical at the US Environmental Protection Agency in Oklahoma as a Senior Research Associate. In this role, he studies the depollution of chromium (VI) in groundwater, which was the focus of the film “Erin Brockovich”. The film documents widespread chrome pollution in Hinkley, a town in Southern California.

“We are focusing on using zero valent iron as a potential amendment for the reactive permeable barrier to reduce the concentration of chromium in groundwater,” said Kurwadkar, who started his one-year scholarship last January. .


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