Dr. Craig Adams, the John and Susan Mathes Missouri Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla, and three co-authors have received the 2003 Rudolph Hering Medal from the American Society of Civil Engineers for his research into the removal of antibiotics in drinking water. The research could become instrumental if governmental agencies require regulation of antibiotics in the future.
The ASCE award recognizes the most valuable contribution to the increase of knowledge in and the advancement of the environmental branch of the engineering field. Adams, along with UMR students Yong Wang and Keith Loftin and Dr. Michael Meyer of the U.S. Geological Survey, co-authored the paper that served as the basis for the award. Titled "Removal of Antibiotics from Surface and Distilled Water in Conventional Water Treatment Processes," the paper was published in the March 2002 issue of the Journal of Environmental Engineering.
Adams and the co-authors accepted the Hering award June 24 at an ASCE meeting in Philadelphia.
A recent USGS study found antibiotics in 40 percent of the surface and ground water samples tested in the United States. These antibiotics reach the water supply from various human and animal sources, including municipal waste and livestock waste, Adams’ paper explains.
"When humans or animals ingest antibiotics, only a small portion of that is metabolized by our bodies and the rest are excreted into waste water and end up in our surface waters," says Adams.
Antibiotics in drinking water could cause potential health problems, and this possibility is "the subject of intense research at this point," Adams says.
"Clearly, the most important concern is that humans could become exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria," Adams says. "The role of antibiotics in drinking water treatment plants in the formation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is currently unknown. However, the formation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the environment is one of the most important public health issues for the new century."
Adams’ study shows that while many surface and groundwater supplies in the United States contain antibiotics, commonly used water treatment processes should be able to remove those antibiotics effectively, should health and environmental officials one day require and regulate their removal.
"This is important information because if it is determined that antibiotics need to be removed from the drinking water due to health effects or regulatory requirements, we know how to do it," Adams says.
Adams’ research team conducted studies by testing the removal of seven common antibiotics from distilled and deionized water and Missouri River water. Several water treatment processes were found useful in removing most antibiotics by up to 90 percent. Those processes include chlorination and powdered-activated and granular-activated carbon treatment — all of which are currently used by water treatment facilities — as well as reverse osmosis. Antibiotics can be effectively removed with these technologies, which are already in place in most water treatment facilities, says Adams.
Adams joined the UMR faculty in 1995. His professorship was established by John A. and Susan Mathes of St. Louis. John Mathes, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from UMR in 1968 and 1969, founded John Mathes and Associates Inc., an environmental engineering firm based in Columbia, Ill., in 1975. He sold the company to Burlington Environmental Inc. of Seattle in 1988.