Occurrence, removal and environmental risk of markers of five drugs of abuse in urban wastewater systems in South Australia

Meena K. Yadav, Michael D. Short, Cobus Gerber, Ben van Den Akker, Rupak Aryal, Christopher P. Saint

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The occurrence and fate of five drugs of abuse in raw influent and treated effluent wastewater were investigated over a period of 1 year in the Adelaide region of South Australia. Four wastewater treatment plants were chosen for this study and monitored for five drugs which included cocaine in the form of its metabolite benzoylecgonine (BE), methamphetamine, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and two opioids (codeine and morphine) during the period April 2016 to February 2017. Alongside concentrations in raw sewage, the levels of drugs in the treated effluent were assessed and removal efficiencies were calculated. Drug concentrations were measured by mixed-mode solid phase extraction and liquid chromatography coupled to a quadrupole mass spectrometer. Drug concentrations detected in the raw wastewater ranged from 7 to 6510 ng/L and < LOD to 4264 ng/L in treated effluent samples. Drug removal rates varied seasonally and spatially. The mass loads of drugs discharged into the environment were in descending order: codeine > methamphetamine > morphine > MDMA > BE. Results showed that all the targeted drugs were on average incompletely removed by wastewater treatment, with removal performance highest for morphine (94%) and lowest for MDMA (58%). A screening-level environmental risk assessment was subsequently performed for the drugs based on effluent wastewater concentrations. Based on calculated risk quotients, overall environmental risk for these compounds appears low, with codeine and methamphetamine likely to pose the greatest potential risk to receiving environments. Given the recognised limitations of current ecotoxicological models and risk assessment methods for these and other pharmaceutical drugs, the potential for environmental impacts associated with the continuous discharge of these compounds in wastewater effluents should not be overlooked.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33816-33826
Number of pages11
Issue number33
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Chemicals of concern
  • Illicit drugs
  • LC-MS/MS
  • Methamphetamine
  • Risk assessment


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