Occurrence of eight selected pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs; caffeine, carbamazepine, triclosan, gemfibrozil, diclofenac, ibuprofen, ketoprofen and naproxen) were investigated in effluents from fifteen sewage treatment plants (STPs) across South Australia. In addition, a detailed investigation into the removal of these compounds was also carried out in four STPs with different technologies (Plant A: conventional activated sludge; plant B: two oxidation ditches; plant C: three bioreactors; and plant D: ten lagoons in series). The concentrations of these compounds in the effluents from the fifteen STPs showed substantial variations among the STPs, with their median concentrations ranging from 26 ng/L for caffeine to 710 ng/L for carbamazepine. Risk assessment based on the "worst case scenario" of the monitoring data from the present study suggested potential toxic risks to aquatic organisms posed by carbamazepine, triclosan and diclofenac associated with such effluent discharge. With the exception of carbamazepine and gemfibrozil, significant concentration decreases between influent and effluent were observed in the four STPs studied in more detail. Biodegradation was found to be the main mechanism for removing concentrations from the liquid waste stream for the PhACs within the four STPs, while adsorption onto sludge appeared to be a minor process for all target PhACs except for triclosan. Some compounds (e.g. gemfibrozil) exhibited variable removal efficiencies within the four STPs. Plant D (10 lagoons in series) was least efficient in the removal of the target PhACs; significant biodegradation of these compounds only occurred from the sixth or seventh lagoon.
Additional publication details
Occurrence and removal of pharmaceutically active compounds in sewage treatment plants with different technologies