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Removal of emerging drugs of addiction by wastewater treatment and water recycling processes and impacts on effluent-associated environmental risk

Yadav, Meena K., Short, Michael D., Gerber, Cobus, Awad, John, van den Akker, Ben, Saint, Christopher P.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.680 pp. 13-22
activated sludge, coagulation, codeine, effluents, flocculation, membrane bioreactors, metabolites, methamphetamines, monitoring, morphine, narcotics, risk, risk assessment, wastewater, wastewater treatment, water reuse, water utilities, Australia
Drugs of addiction, have been recognized as potential contaminants of concern to the environment. Effluent wastewater discharge is a major source of contamination to aquatic receiving environments. A year-long monitoring program was undertaken in Australia to characterise the fate of four emerging drugs of addiction: methamphetamine; MDMA; pharmaceutical opioids: codeine and morphine and a metabolite: benzoylecgonine in four wastewater treatment plants operating with different secondary treatment technologies: conventional activated sludge (CAS), membrane bioreactors (MBR), integrated fixed-film AS (IFAS) and sequencing batch reactor (SBR). The effect of subsequent tertiary treatment (coagulation/flocculation) on the removal efficiency was also assessed.Drugs were detected in influent and effluent samples (mean concentration ranged from 43–4777 and 17–1721 ng/L, respectively). Treated effluents had noticeably lower levels compared to raw influents. Removal efficiency of compounds depended on the secondary treatment employed, with IFAS and MBR performing the best with significant removal of compounds (≈90%) followed by CAS (54–96%) and lastly SBR (42–83%). Despite the low levels of drugs measured after the secondary treatment, near complete removal after tertiary treatment (≈99%) was recorded, which demonstrated the effectiveness of using the coagulation/flocculation process as an effective step for enhancing the removal efficiency. The levels of drugs were at a low level in the effluents released into the environment and used for recycling and all posed a low environmental risk in urban water courses based on the risk assessment. The information given here provides new and useful information to the water industry and regulators on the efficiency of drug removal in a range of wastewater treatment configurations.