MSU chemistry study of pharmaceutical pollution on aquatic systems and remediation plans serve as inspiration for COVID-19 research

Todd 2020

by Sam Kealhofer, Intern on the A&S Research Support Team


To illustrate the rising concern of pharmaceutical contamination and elaborate on remediation efforts, Mississippi State University Department of Chemistry faculty Todd Mlsna, Charles Pittman and Dinesh Mohan collaborated on a literature review spanning nearly three decades.

Their review, “Pharmaceuticals of Emerging Concern in Aquatic Systems: Chemistry, Occurrence, Effects, and Removal Methods” was published in the American Chemical Society journal, Chemical Reviews, one of the most cited science/medical journals in the world with an impact factor of 54.3. Their paper has had 113 citations and more than 32,000 downloads since publication last year. The review—which encompassed literature from 1990–2018—won “favorite review of 2019” from Chemical Reviews.

Mlsna, Pittman and Mohan demonstrated in the review that although pharmaceuticals are a milestone of human scientific advancement and are credited with saving millions of lives, they also have emerged as a new class of environmental contaminant. 

The researchers found that pharmaceutical residue has been discovered in every continent’s environmental matrices like surface water, ground water and wastewater, and also are found in the geosphere and biosphere and pose lingering and acute harmful effects on plants and animals.

Pharmaceuticals enter the environment through urban domestic effluents like household waste and wastewater systems. Hospitals, animal husbandry, pharmaceutical manufacturing, aquaculture and agriculture irrigation wastewater are also major contributors, said the MSU researchers.

The MSU collaboration reviewed several remediation methods, but ultimately emphasized absorption because it is low cost, can easily be added to wastewater treatment plants and produces less toxic products than many other remediation methods.

Their publication concludes by calling for renewed management efforts such as stricter governmental regulation and good disposal practices.

Pittman, Mlsna and Mohan each contributed specialized expertise to the collaborative project. Mohan studied the value of absorption science during his postdoctoral work at MSU, which led Pittman to research the topic as well. Mohan’s expertise in absorption science combined with Pittman’s background in organic chemistry and Mlsna’s knowledge of analytical chemistry culminated in a review demonstrating the applicable nature of their fields to address important environmental issues. 

The group has recently demonstrated the science can address other important issues, like the spread of COVID-19. The group once again collaborated on a recent literature review demonstrating wastewater science’s ability to track and mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which is the focus of an upcoming feature in “Research in the Headlines.”

In an effort to contribute solutions to the various challenges facing the nation, as well as insight into other points of interest, the College of Arts & Sciences will continue to highlight faculty research in our “Research in the Headlines” series each Monday and Wednesday. For more research in the headlines, visit; and for information about the College of Arts & Sciences or the Department of Chemistry visit or

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