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Impact of the wastewater-mixing zone on attenuation of pharmaceuticals in natural waters: Implications for an impact zone inclusive environmental risk assessment

Bagnis, Simone, Fitzsimons, Mark F., Snape, Jason, Tappin, Alan, Comber, Sean
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.658 pp. 42-50
active pharmaceutical ingredients, biochemical oxygen demand, desorption, developing countries, diclofenac, drugs, environmental assessment, environmental fate, half life, models, protocols, risk assessment process, sorption, wastewater, wastewater treatment
The direct discharge of untreated wastewater has been identified as an important source of environmental contamination by active pharmaceutical ingredients and other ‘down-the-drain’ chemicals in developing countries. It necessitates the development of an environmental risk assessment approach for the resulting impact zone. This study was designed to investigate the impact of low level of dilution (<10) on the natural attenuation processes of distribution and degradation within the impact zone. Dilution of the untreated wastewater resulted in increased desorption and corresponding environmental concentrations. The presence/absence of the microbial population in the batches affected the degree of sorption depending on the compound charge (i.e. positive or negative), highlighting an experimental technical bias. The degradation half-lives of acebutolol and diclofenac increased with increasing dilution and resulted in higher environmental persistence. The modelling of the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) allowed an estimate of the temporal end boundary of the impact zone to be predicted as 24h. Therefore, it was concluded that most of the investigated compounds would persist beyond the end of the impact zone as defined by the return to environmental BOD concentrations. It is proposed that, within environmental risk assessment protocols, the impact zone should be considered as a semi-natural wastewater treatment area in such a way to allow the estimate of environmental concentrations of pharmaceuticals beyond its end.