Learn about “Free Drugs,” “Superbugs,” and “Forever Chemicals” in the Environment at the Science Lecture on Feb. 21

Posted Feb 14, 2024

What happens when the pharmaceutical drugs we take end up in wastewater?

How do “forever chemicals” from consumer products end up in surface water?

And what will we do about the emergence of “superbugs” that are resistant to treatment?

Renowned environmental chemist Dr. Diana Aga is ready to answer those questions and more as she visits campus for the George W. and Mildred K. White Science Lecture Series.

The highlight of her visit is the public lecture at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21, in Riley Auditorium at the Battelle Fine Arts Center, 170 W. Park St., Westerville. Your RSVP is appreciated.

In the lecture, “Free Drugs,” “Superbugs,” and “Forever Chemicals” in the Environment: Occurrence and Implications, Aga will discuss how chemical pollution of surface waters in the U.S. and around the world has become a major concern because of their adverse human health and ecological effects.

Aga says residues of pharmaceuticals and other synthetic organic compounds have been detected in the environment at trace concentrations, but with long-term deleterious effects on humans and wildlife. Antimicrobials are of particular concern since the presence of these compounds in the environment plays a role in the emergence of antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) and result in mutations that create “superbugs” that are hard to treat.

Aga’s presentation also will look at the environmental fate and health effects of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” that are present in many of our consumer products. Scientists and engineers are racing to develop innovative ways to destroy PFAS using different approaches involving a combination of biological, chemical, and physical techniques.

Aga is the Henry Woodburn Professor of Chemistry and a State University of New York (SUNY) Distinguished Professor at the University at Buffalo (UB). She also serves as the director of RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water) Institute at UB.

Her research involves studying the fate, transport, effects, and treatment of chemicals of emerging concerns and persistent organic pollutants in the environment. She is an expert in developing trace analytical methods for organic contaminants in complex environmental matrices based on chromatography and mass spectrometry. She is interested in advancing non-target analysis of unknown contaminants in the environment, especially in identifying degradation products and novel forms of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.” Her research includes evaluating the efficiencies of various biological, physical, and chemical treatment processes in removing PFAS, pharmaceuticals, antimicrobials, and antibiotic resistance genes from wastewater treatment plants, and in agroecosystems. She also investigates bioaccumulation and toxicity of environmental contaminants in humans, fish, and wildlife.

She frequently speaks to the media about her area of expertise and recommends these two articles:

What Happens to Wildlife Swimming in a Sea of Our Drug Residues? 

Antidepressants are building up in fish brains in the Great Lakes region

Aga will also speak in more scientific detail at these events for the campus community on Feb. 21:  

  • Technical Talk: 11:30 a.m., The Point 140.
  • Roundtable Discussion and Q&A: 1:50-2:45 p.m., Science Building 104.