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Investigation of cannabis biomarkers and transformation products in waters by liquid chromatography coupled to time of flight and triple quadrupole mass spectrometry

Boix, Clara, Ibáñez, María, Bijlsma, Lubertus, Sancho, Juan V., Hernández, Félix
Chemosphere 2014 v.99 pp. 64-71
aquatic environment, biomarkers, chlorination, environmental factors, hydrolysis, liquid chromatography, metabolites, photolysis, solar radiation, spectrometers, surface water, tandem mass spectrometry, wastewater, wastewater treatment
11-Nor-9-carboxy-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC-COOH) is commonly selected as biomarker for the investigation of cannabis consumption through wastewater analysis. The removal efficiency of THC-COOH in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) has been reported to vary between 31% and 98%. Accordingly, possible transformation products (TPs) of this metabolite might be formed during treatment processes or in receiving surface water under environmental conditions. In this work, surface water was spiked with THC-COOH and subjected to hydrolysis, chlorination and photo-degradation (both ultraviolet and simulated sunlight) experiments under laboratory-controlled conditions. One hydrolysis, eight chlorination, three ultraviolet photo-degradation and seven sunlight photo-degradation TPs were tentatively identified by liquid chromatography coupled to quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer (LC-QTOF MS). In a subsequent step, THC-COOH and the identified TPs were searched in wastewater samples using LC coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS) with triple quadrupole. THC-COOH was found in all influent and effluent wastewater samples analyzed, although at significant lower concentrations in the effluent samples. The removal efficiency of WWTP under study was approximately 86%. Furthermore, THC-COOH was also investigated in several surface waters, and it was detected in 50% of the samples analyzed. Regarding TPs, none were found in influent wastewater, while one hydrolysis and five photo-degradation (simulated sunlight) TPs were detected in effluent and surface waters. The most detected compound, resulting from sunlight photo-degradation, was found in 60% of surface waters analyzed. This fact illustrates the importance of investigating these TPs in the aquatic environment.