• How Safe is Malaysian Drinking Water? - Chromatography Investigates


How Safe is Malaysian Drinking Water? - Chromatography Investigates

May 23 2020

Access to safe drinking water is essential to human development and well-being. The global effort to ensure safe drinking water is part of the remit of the World Health Organization. It is estimated that 2 billion people use a drinking water source that is contaminated with faeces. Contaminated water can transmit diseases including cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea – and estimated 485,000 deaths due to diarrhoea are caused by contaminated drinking water every year.

But drinking water can also contain man-made nasties that come from pharmaceuticals and personal care products. And these contaminants can be deadly too by either slowly poisoning humans or by increasing resistance to our current range of medicines, for example, by increasing antibiotic resistance. A recent paper published in the journal Environmental Geochemistry and Health has investigated the problem of APIs in Malaysian drinking water and chromatography was once again to the fore.

APIs in the tap

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are widely used in everyday life. Medicines for humans and animals, illegal drugs, cosmetics and face creams all find their way into the wastewater system – either deliberately or inadvertently. We throw away unused medicines or flush them down the toilet, we shower, and wash and soaps and cosmetics get washed from the body into the wastewater system.

Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) are found in pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Whilst there are no confirmed adverse effects from APIs in drinking water, the contamination of water with these products remains a concern. By there very nature, pharmaceuticals are designed to interact with receptors in the body at exceptionally low concentrations to stimulate a biological response. When they interact with nonreceptor targets the response is poorly understood. Some APIs such as antibiotics can cause bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics leading to strains of drug resistant bacteria.

Endocrine disruptors by the glassful

Other APIs that are sometimes found in tap water are endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These include steroid hormones such as testosterone and progesterone. These chemicals can mimic or block natural hormones in the body leading to a disruption in normal organ function. It is thought that even at extremely low levels these chemicals can have a significant effect on us.

In the paper referenced above, a team of researchers from Malaysia developed an optimized analytical technique for detecting APIs in tap water. Current treatment technologies are inefficient for removing endocrine disrupting chemicals from water. The team used solid-phase extraction and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry to detect the APIs. The use of chromatography to analyse samples is the topic of the article, Practical Considerations for High-Throughput Chiral Screening in HPLC and SFC with 3- and Sub-2-µm Particle-Packed Columns.

The team detected several classes of pharmaceuticals and personal care products including antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, psychoactive stimulants and several other classes of drugs. However, the estimated risk to humans was negligible due to the extremely low levels of compounds detected.

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