Cocaine, codeine, and methadone in your wastewater?

wastewater treatment, constructed wetlands, Cyprus, cocaine, narcotics, reverse osmosis, drugs in water, pharmaceuticals, water pollution Small amounts of cocaine found in treated water supplies in Cyprus

Upon learning that scientists have discovered narcotics in already treated Cypriot waste water, one Cyprus Mail reader asked if the drugs can be recycled. While we think a sense of humor is good medicine, this story also has serious implications.

The paper reports that a recent survey of sewage treatment plants in two cities in Cyprus showed the presence of a motley of drugs including cocaine, benzoylecgonine (a major metabolite of cocaine), norbenzoylecgonine, codeine, norcodeine,  heroin, ketamine, MDMA or ecstasy, methadone, morphine and normophine. This cocktail was then processed by conventional treatment systems which failed to clean the water completely.

Drugs in the water

Scientists have long worried about the rate at which pharmaceuticals are entering and altering the chemical composition of our water streams. This phenomenon has been linked with increasing amounts of estrogen and in the Potomac River in Washington D.C., some fish were showing up with both male and female sexual organs.

Treatment plants in California use reverse osmosis technology to clean wastewater, and then zap it with an ultraviolet light. This is said to be more effective at removing contaminants than archaic wastewater treatment plants, but this technology doesn’t come cheap. In the United States, it can cost up to roughly $15 a month to treat one gallon, and most facilities handle thousands of gallons a day.

A better way to treat wastewater

Constructed wetlands that use naturally occurring wetland plants to filter out contaminants have also proven to be very successful and rely entirely on nature to obtain clean drinking water.

Last year Egypt held a wastewater treatment conference in Cairo in order to hash out new ideas for wastewater treatment given the overwhelming agricultural runoff and other contaminants that have entered the Nile River.

Getting high on cocaine, accidentally?

In the meantime, according to Assistant Professor Despo Fatta-Casinou who talked to Cyprus Mail and led the sewage plant survey, traces of cocaine, codeine, methadone and nor codeine were found in Cyprus’ treated water. The concentrations are fairly low, but Fatta-Casinou warns that longterm exposure could have serious consequences.

We can’t help but wonder what would be found in the trucks of waste hauled out of the Burj Khalifa each day?

:: Cyprus Mail

image via Andronicusmax via Flickr


About Tafline Laylin

As a tour leader who led “eco-friendly” camping trips throughout North America, Tafline soon realized that she was instead leaving behind a trail of gas fumes, plastic bottles and Pringles. In fact, wherever she traveled – whether it was Viet Nam or South Africa or England – it became clear how inefficiently the mandate to re-think our consumer culture is reaching the general public. Born in Iran, raised in South Africa and the United States, she currently splits her time between Africa and the Middle East. Tafline can be reached at tafline (at) greenprophet (dot) com, @teakettle22,

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