A Tel Aviv University researcher has warned that getting the environment rid of pharmaceutical waste is not as easy as it seems.
Dr. Dror Avisar, head of the Hydro-Chemistry Laboratory at TAU's Department of Geography and the Human Environment, said that when our environment doesn't test positive for the presence of a specific drug, we assume it's not there.
But through biological or chemical processes such as sun exposure or oxidization, drugs break down, or degrade, into different forms - and could still be lurking in our water or soil.
In his lab, Avisar is doing extensive testing to determine how drugs degrade and identify the many forms they take in the environment.
"If we don't find a particular compound, we don't see contamination - but that's not true," Avisar explained.
"We may have several degradation products with even higher levels of bioactivity," Avisar added.
For the first time, Avisar and his research group have been working to simulate environmental conditions identical to our natural environment, down to the last molecule, in order to identify the conditions under which compounds degrade, how they degrade, and the resulting chemical products. Among the factors they consider are sun exposure, water composition, temperatures, pH levels and organic content.
Currently using amoxicillin, a common antibiotic prescribed for bacterial infections such as strep throat, as a test case, Avisar has successfully identified nine degradation products with different levels of stability. Two may even be toxic, he noted.
The finding has been published in the Environmental Chemistry and the Journal of Environmental Science and Health.