Medications, pesticides and hormones are emptying into the St. Lawrence River from Montreal’s water-treatment plant, but an ozone disinfection system that would remove significant amounts of those substances won’t be up and running until 2015.
A team of researchers at the Université de Montréal has for years been tracking the presence of antibiotics, chemotherapy and epilepsy drugs, hormones and other chemicals in the plume of water that leaves the east-end water-treatment plant.
Sébastien Sauvé, the environmental-chemistry professor who leads the team, says about a tonne of antibiotics enter the river each year in treated water from the Jean-R. Marcotte waste-water treatment plant in Rivière-des-Prairies.
His team also tested Montreal tap water and found extremely low levels of medication.
The materials found are endocrine disrupters, which means they can have an impact on the endocrine system. Endocrine disruption is linked to early puberty in girls and a drop in male fertility, Sauvé said. They have been found to cause the presence of both male and female characteristics in fish, abnormal thyroids in fish-eating birds and reproductive problems in alligators.
Montreal’s water-treatment plant does a good job removing suspended substances and phosphates from treated water. An ozonation system, which uses ozone to remove bacteria, viruses, pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals from waste water, could remove the majority of environmental contaminants, he said.
Montreal plans to install a $200-million ozonation system at the water-treatment plant. A funding agreement between Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa was reached in 2009, but the system is not expected to be operational until 2015. The city is preparing to go to tender on the project in 2013. The water-treatment plant is one of the five largest in the world.
Last year they found traces of antidepressants in the livers, brains and flesh of fish exposed to effluent from Montreal’s waste-water treatment plant. The vast majority of pharmaceuticals and hormones found in the water from the water-treatment plant comes from human consumption. He added that expired or unnecessary medication should not be flushed down the toilet or poured down the drain, but rather returned to a pharmacy or one of Montreal’s eco-centres.