Understanding the Removal and Fate of Selected Drugs of Abuse in Sludge and Biosolids from Australian Wastewater Treatment Operations

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Illicit and pharmaceutical drugs are considered to be emerging contaminants of concern, and much research effort has gone into assessing their occurrence in wastewater. However, little information exists on their presence in treated sludge or biosolids. In this study, we examined sludge and biosolids from a large metropolitan wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in Australia to determine the occurrence of five drugs of abuse, including benzoylecgonine as indicator of cocaine consumption, methamphetamine and 3,4-methylenedioxy methamphetamine (MDMA) as representative illicit stimulants, and codeine and morphine as pharmaceuticals with potential environmental risk. The samples were solid-phase extracted and analyzed by liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS). Benzoylecgonine and MDMA were present in raw sludge but were notably degraded during solids treatment processes, and were not detected in the dewatered sludge (after treatment) or in biosolids. Methamphetamine, codeine, and morphine were detected in all biosolids samples at mean concentrations of 20–50 μg·kg−1. The presence of these three drugs in biosolids shows that these compounds are relatively stable in the solids and in soil, and can persist in biosolids for at least several years. A simple environmental risk assessment based on estimated risk quotients (RQs) for these compounds indicated that the potential environmental risks associated with the land application of biosolids are very low at typical Australian biosolids application rates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)872-879
Number of pages8
Issue number5
Early online date10 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© 2019 THE AUTHORS. Published by Elsevier LTD on behalf of Chinese Academy of Engineering andHigher Education Press Limited Company. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).


  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Biosolids
  • Contamination
  • Methamphetamine
  • Sorption


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