Low removal of acidic and hydrophilic pharmaceutical products by various types of municipal wastewater treatment plants

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Christian Gagnon *
André Lajeunesse
(*) Corresponding Author:
Christian Gagnon | Christian.gagnon@ec.gc.ca

Abstract

Pharmaceutical substances represent a risk for aquatic environments and their potential impacts on the receiving environment are poorly understood. Municipal effluents are important sources of contaminants including common pharmaceuticals like anti-inflammatory and anti-convulsive substances. The removal of pharmaceuticals, particularly those highly soluble can represent a great challenge to conventional wastewater treatment processes. Hydrophilic drugs (e.g. acidic drugs) have properties that can highly influence removal efficiencies of treatment plants. The performance of different wastewater treatment processes for the removal of specific pharmaceutical products that are expected to be poorly removed was investigated. The obtained results were compared to inherent properties of the studied substances. Clofibric acid, carbamazepine, diclofenac, ibuprofen and naproxen were largely found in physicochemical primary-treated effluents at concentrations ranging from 77 to 2384 ng/L. This treatment type showed removal yields lower than 30%. On the other hand, biological treatments with activated sludge under aerobic conditions resulted in much better removal rates (>50% for 5 of the 8 studied substances). Interestingly, this latter type of process showed evidence of selectivity with respect to the size (R2=0.7388), solubility (R2=0.6812), and partitioning (R2=0.9999) of the removed substances; the smallest and least sorbed substances seemed to be removed at better rates, while the persistent carbamazepine (392 ng/L) and diclofenac (66 ng/L) were poorly removed (<10%) after biological treatment. In the case of treatment by aerated lagoons, the most abundant substances were the highly soluble hydroxy-ibuprofen (350-3321 ng/L), followed by naproxen (42-413 n/L) and carbamazepine (254-386 ng/L). In order to assess the impacts of all these contaminants of various properties on the environment and human health, we need to better understand the chemical and physical transformations occurring at the treatment plant and in the receiving waters.

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