LIFE PharmDegrade - Degradation of pharmaceuticals in wastewaters from nursing homes and hospitals

LIFE13 ENV/SI/000466

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Contact details:

Contact person: Marko GERL
Tel: +386 (0) 59 033 386
Fax: +386 (0) 59 047 988
Email: info@arhel.si

Project description:


The systemic control of pharmaceuticals in waters remains unregulated in the EU, despite the European Commission's proposal in 2012 to restrict three most common pharmaceuticals in water. Among the most frequently found chemicals related to medicines such as endocrine disruptors, antibiotics, along with the remains of painkillers and tranquilisers.

Pseudoendocrines are now classified as substances of very high concern and are addressed in the EU REACH Directive. They are also considered as important pollutants according to the Water Directive. Although the concentration of most drug residues found in water bodies can be considered low, it is known that due to their high biological activity and tendency to bio-accumulate, their continuous and increasing presence represents a new and dangerous type of environmental pollution and health hazard. Common biological wastewater treatment plants are usually insufficiently equipped to treat pharmaceuticals and sometimes produce metabolites that are often more problematic than the pollutant treated.


The LIFE PharmDegrade project’s main aim was to introduce an efficient and financially viable technology for the removal of pharmaceuticals (PH) from the effluent of wastewater treatment plants. The project technology was based on the advanced oxidation processes (AOP) associated with electrochemical degradation of PH, using different electrodes (graphite electrodes, mixed metal oxide electrodes and boron-doped diamond electrodes). The project aimed to demonstrate this technology on a sufficiently large scale to fully evaluate its effectiveness and economic viability. The aim was to demonstrate a solution that is applicable to all wastewater containing PH and other persistent substances, which also include wastewater from old people’s homes and hospitals in the EU. Furthermore, the technology was shown to be flexible, suitable for different applications, with low maintenance costs and high efficiency.


The LIFE PharmDegrade project created a pilot plant to demonstrate a novel technology using electro-chemical oxidation for the removal of pharmaceutical residuals from the effluents of wastewater treatment plants. The trial showed that up to 90% of all tested pharmaceutical residuals could be removed in a cost-effective way. The team calculated that the cost of running a water treatment plant with a capacity to service a population of 20 000 is between €0.17 and €0.23 per cubic metre of waste, which is comparable to alternative technologies that use ozone or activated carbon. However, the project’s electro-chemical oxidation methodology offers several additional advantages: no need to use chemicals and no solid waste remains after the treatment.

The project was especially innovative, demonstrating that electro-chemical oxidation can fully degrade recalcitrant organic matter. The technology is therefore not only applicable to the removal of pharmaceutical residuals, as successfully demonstrated by the project, but also to other persistent chemicals from industrial lines (dioxins, PCBs, furans, solvents, biocidal compounds, food additives, detergents).

During the course of the project several scientific and technical papers describing the technology were published. The project also contributed to improved common knowledge of the presence of pharmaceuticals in wastewater, by measuring their actual concentrations during the preparatory and monitoring activities. Such knowledge contributed to the newly established EU Watch List database on priority substances (Directive 2013/39/EC, amending Directives 2000/60/EC and 2008/105/EC as regards priority substances in the field of water policy), and it is expected to lead to the improvement of relevant standards at national level, since the Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of Ljubljana (associated beneficiary) is actively involved in the development of this regulation.

The pilot plant can be used to demonstrate the technology to potential investors and be easily transported to any suitable location for further testing and evaluation. Its modular design also enables easy upgrade for further improvements of the technology and also for testing other similar water treatment technologies.

ARHEL, the coordinating beneficiary, plans to commercialise the technology and to file a patent protection for individual components. A well-attended final conference confirmed the great interest in the issue of pharmaceutical residuals and several potential end-users have already expressed interest in carrying out further tests.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Waste - Medical waste
Risk management - Human health protection
Services & Commerce - Healthcare - Social work
Water - Waste water treatment


public health‚  water quality improvement‚  waste water treatment‚  hospital waste‚  pollutant elimination‚  hazardous substance

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator ARHEL projektiranje in inženiring d.o.o.
Type of organisation SME Small and medium sized enterprise
Description Since its foundation in 1996, the Arhel company has been involved in the development, production and sales of various electromechanical products, including a high-current system for treating toxic wastewater in the process of soil remediation and nonstandard laboratory measurement and control equipment.
Partners UL (FFA)(Univerza v Ljubljani (Fakulteta za farmacijo)), Slovenia


Project reference LIFE13 ENV/SI/000466
Duration 01-SEP-2014 to 30-NOV -2016
Total budget 1,216,847.00 €
EU contribution 500,619.00 €
Project location Pomurska(Slovenia Slovenija) Podravska(Slovenia Slovenija) Koroska(Slovenia Slovenija) Savinjska(Slovenia Slovenija) Zasavska(Slovenia Slovenija) Spodnjeposavska(Slovenia Slovenija) Gorenjska(Slovenia Slovenija) Notranjsko-kraska(Slovenia Slovenija) Goriska(Slovenia Slovenija) Obalno-kraska(Slovenia Slovenija) Jugovzhodna Slovenija(Slovenia Slovenija) Osrednjeslovenska(Slovenia Slovenija) Extra-Regio(Slovenia Slovenija) Associated Slovenia (SLO)(Slovenia Slovenija)


Read more:

Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Communication Plan After-LIFE Communication Plan
Publication: Layman report Layman report


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version