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Living Machines as a Possible Treatment for Ibuprofen in Wastewater

Historically, wastewater treatment has focused on disinfection and reducing nutrient concentrations, but there is now growing concern over the increased concentrations of pharmaceutical compounds in agricultural and human wastewater. More comprehensive conventional wastewater treatment, however, leads to increased resource and energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Living Machines are alternative, decentralized ecological wastewater systems that have been successful at disinfecting and reducing nutrient loads in wastewater with lower capital and operating costs and improved energy efficiency. We conducted preliminary experiments using small-scale Living Machines to test their effectiveness at reducing a common pharmaceutical, ibuprofen, which is increasingly used in the agricultural sector and for human health. We found that these Living Machines were efficient and effective in reducing concentrations of ibuprofen in wastewater, even at input levels much higher than reported in the literature, and hence show promise for a range of possible applications.