Active pharmaceutical ingredients entering the aquatic environment from wastewater treatment works: A cause for concern?
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This work reports on the variation in wastewater treatment works (WwTW) influent concentrations of a wide variety of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), their removal efficiency, effluent concentrations and potential risks to the aquatic environment. The research is based on data generated from two large UK-wide WwTW monitoring programmes. Taking account of removal of parent compound from the aqueous phase during treatment in combination with estimates of dilution available it is possible to prioritise the APIs of greatest risk of exceeding estimates of predicted no effect concentrations (PNEC) in receiving waters for all WwTW in the UK. The majority of substances studied were removed to a high degree, although with significant variation, both within and between WwTW. Poorer removal (between influent and effluent) was observed for ethinyloestradiol, diclofenac, propranolol, the macrolide antibiotics, fluoxetine, tamoxifen and carbamazepine. All except the last two of these substances were present in effluents at concentrations higher than their respective estimated PNEC (based on measurement of effluents from 45 WwTW on 20 occasions). Based on available dilution data as many as 890 WwTW in the UK (approximately 13% of all WwTW) may cause exceedances of estimated riverine PNECs after mixing of their effluents with receiving waters. The overall degree of risk is driven by the toxicity value selected, which in itself is controlled by the availability of reliable and relevant ecotoxicological data and consequently the safety factors applied. The dataset and discussion, provides information to assist in the future management of these types of chemicals.
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