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Assessment of drugs of abuse in a wastewater treatment plant with parallel secondary wastewater treatment train

Kumar, Rahul, Tscharke, Ben, O'Brien, Jake, Mueller, Jochen F., Wilkins, Chris, Padhye, Lokesh P.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.658 pp. 947-957
alcohol drinking, alcohols, biomarkers, cocaine, humans, liquid chromatography, membrane bioreactors, metabolites, methadone, methamphetamines, morphine, nicotine, rain, sulfates, summer, tandem mass spectrometry, urine, wastewater, wastewater treatment, winter, New Zealand
In this study, 24-hour composite wastewater samples were collected from a wastewater treatment plant of New Zealand with parallel secondary treatment units. The aim was to investigate the occurrence, removal, and consumption of 13 drugs of abuse (DOAs) including illicit drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and their metabolites. The filtered samples were analysed through direct injection on LC-MS/MS. Ethyl sulfate, one of the major metabolites of alcohol, was detected at the highest concentration (mean = 8300 ng/L) in wastewater influent. The mean concentrations of methamphetamine and hydroxycotinine in the influent were found to be 935 ng/L and 5000 ng/L, respectively. Amphetamine (383 ng/L) and cocaine (286 ng/L) were detected at the highest concentrations in the effluent. The removal efficiency of the treatment plant varied for DOAs: >99% for morphine, ethyl sulfate, and hydroxycotinine and <50% for methadone and 2-ethylidene-1,5-dimethyl-3,3-diphenylpyrrolidine (EDDP). Primary treatment did not show any significant removal of DOAs while the removal efficiencies of total monitored DOAs by Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) and Bardenpho processes were found to be similar (~95% removal). The population was estimated using hydrochemical parameters and human urine biomarkers and showed good agreement with wastewater treatment plant's estimates. Weekday-weekend variation in the consumption of alcohol and methamphetamine was found to be significant, with a higher estimated consumption during the weekends. Monitored DOAs in influent were present at highest concentrations during summer (23 μg/L), at low concentrations during winter (17 μg/L), and at lowest concentrations during heavy rainfall event (11 μg/L), possibly due to dilution. The population normalised mass loads of DOAs were found to correlate with their metabolites, and morphine was found to correlate with nicotine metabolites.