Pilot project to reduce water pollution – Fraunhofer ISI launches a practice-based study in Ulm


A large-scale pilot project to reduce water pollution from pharmaceuticals will be launched on 15 October 2015 in Ulm. Within the “MindER” project – which stands for “Minderung des Eintrags von Röntgenkontrastmitteln in die Umwelt” (Reducing the emission of x-ray contrast agents to the environment), the Fraunhofer ISI is conducting studies over several weeks of the acceptance and feasibility of specific measures at the University Hospital of Ulm, the military hospital in Ulm and in participating radiology centers. The surveys target patients and medical staff. The benefits for water quality are also estimated and assessed.

X-ray contrast agents are used as excipients in diagnostics and are excreted by patients in urine within 24 hours. They are not readily biodegradable in wastewater treatment plants and as a result end up almost unchanged in bodies of water. One way to reduce their emission to water is to collect patients’ urine separately during the first day after the examination. The idea is to use disposable bags containing an absorbent granulate that binds the urine and makes odorless disposal possible in household waste. Currently, waste incineration is the safest way to dispose of pharmaceuticals.

Previous studies have focused on ways to collect x-ray contrast agents in hospitals. So far, there have not been any studies of capturing x-ray contrast agents in the context of doctors’ surgeries or outpatient care. To successfully reduce x-ray contrast agents using such collection systems, the acceptance and utilization of the systems by staff and patients plays a decisive role. Acceptance studies are therefore an important part of the activities in MindER. Large-scale surveys aim to gather information about how willing patients and medical staff are to integrate urine collection into their daily schedules. Questionnaires are used to gather information about staff and patients’ experiences with the use of urine collection bags in the MindER project.

The possible degree of collection and therefore the effectiveness of mobile collection systems for x-ray contrast agents discharged in urine are analyzed in this way and can be assessed from different aspects. For instance, questions of economic efficiency can be highlighted using the ratio of costs to achievable reduction of water pollution.

The project aims to provide information about whether a widespread separate collection and disposal of urine containing x-ray contrast agents is an efficient and sensible measure in terms of water protection.

The project is being funded by Baden-Wuerttemberg’s Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection and the Energy Sector and conducted by the Fraunhofer ISI.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.