Occurrence of pharmaceutically active and non-steroidal estrogenic compounds in three different wastewater recycling schemes in Australia

01 November 2010

The discovery that natural and synthetic chemicals, in the form of excreted hormones and pharmaceuticals, as well as a vast array of compounds with domestic and industrial applications, can enter the environment via wastewater treatment plants and cause a wide variety of environmental and health problems even at very low concentrations, suggests the need for improvement of water recycling. Three Australian wastewater recycling schemes, two of which employ reverse osmosis (RO) technology, the other applying ozonation and biological activated carbon filtration, have been studied for their ability to remove trace organic contaminants including 11 pharmaceutically active compounds and two non-steroidal estrogenic compounds. Contaminant concentrations were determined using a sensitive analytical method comprising solid phase extraction, derivatization and GC with MS using selected ion monitoring. In raw wastewater, concentrations of analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications were comparable to those found in wastewaters around the world. Remarkably, removal efficiencies for the three schemes were superior to literature values and RO was responsible for the greatest proportion of contaminant removal. The ability of RO membranes to concentrate many of the compounds was demonstrated and highlights the need for continued research into monitoring wastewater treatment, concentrate disposal, improved water recycling schemes and ultimately, safer water and a cleaner environment.