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Investigating dynamic sources of pharmaceuticals: Demographic and seasonal use are more important than down-the-drain disposal in wastewater effluent in a University City setting

Science of the Total Environment

By:
, , , , and
DOI:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.07.199

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Abstract

Pharmaceutical pollution in surface waters poses risks to human and ecosystem health. Wastewater treatment facilities are primary sources of pharmaceutical pollutants, but little is known about the factors that affect drugs entering the wastewater stream. This paper investigates the effects of student pharmaceutical use and disposal behaviors and an annual demographic shift on pharmaceutical pollution in a university town. We sampled wastewater effluent during a ten-day annual spring student move-out period at the University of Vermont. We then interpreted these data in light of survey results that investigated pharmaceutical purchasing, use, and disposal practices among the university student population. Surveys indicated that the majority of student respondents purchased pharmaceuticals in the previous year. Many students reported having leftover drugs, though only a small portion disposed of them, mainly in the trash.

We detected 51 pharmaceuticals in 80% or more of the wastewater effluent samples collected over the ten-day sampling period. Several increased in concentration after students left the area. Concentrations of caffeine and nicotine decreased weakly. Drug disposal among this university student population does not appear to be a major source of pharmaceuticals in wastewater. Increases in pharmaceutical concentration after the students left campus can be tied to an increase in the seasonal use of allergy medications directly related to pollen, as well as a demographic shift to a year-round older population, which supports national data that older people use larger volumes and different types of pharmaceuticals than the younger student population.

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Additional publication details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Investigating dynamic sources of pharmaceuticals: Demographic and seasonal use are more important than down-the-drain disposal in wastewater effluent in a University City setting
Series title:
Science of the Total Environment
DOI:
10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.07.199
Volume:
572
Year Published:
2016
Language:
English
Publisher:
Elsevier
Publisher location:
Amsterdam
Contributing office(s):
New York Water Science Center
Description:
9 p.
First page:
906
Last page:
914
Country:
United States
State:
Vermont
City:
Burlington