Identification and determination of selected hormones and pharmaceuticals in municipal wastewater treatment plant effluent, soil, and crops

Document Type : Original Article


1 Department of Environmental Technologies, Environmental Sciences Research Institute, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran

2 Department of Clean Technologies, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Research Center of Iran, Tehran, Iran


Introduction: pharmaceuticals, personal care products and steroid hormones are emerging pollutants whose main production source is human societies. Municipal wastewater treatment plants have a very effective role in reducing and eliminating these pollutants, however, complete elimination of these compounds is usually not possible and some of these pollutants are treated through the treated wastewater stream (as well as residual sludge) and enter the environment. Due to the use of treated wastewater in the irrigation of fields and orchards, there is a possibility of transferring contaminants to soil, crops, and groundwater. Since the negative effect of the presence of these contaminants is visible in very low concentrations, it is necessary to identify and determine their amount.
Material and methods: In this study, the transfer channel of the treatment plant in the south of Tehran (raw wastewater, treated wastewater), farm soil, and crops in terms of the presence and amount of emerging organic pollutants, from the category of pharmaceuticals and steroid hormones have been studied. Four samplings of treated wastewater were performed in different places. First, qualitative analysis was performed to identify and select target pollutants (for quantitative measurement). Then, the most important quality assurance and control criteria in the field and laboratory were studied so that the data generated had the highest possible level of quality. Finally, each sample for each category of pollutants was separately prepared and extracted. Solid phase and solvent extraction were ultrasonically analyzed and finally analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.
Results and discussion: Two pharmaceuticals, acetaminophen and sulfamethoxazole, and four steroid hormones, aquiline, estrone, estriol, and ethinyl estradiol, were selected as the target contaminants and the most important and continuous ones. All six analytes were identified in a raw wastewater sample and a treated wastewater sample. In another sample of treated wastewater, aquiline, estrone, and ethyl estradiol were not found. Contrary to our expectations, all analytes were found in soil samples, but only estrone was found in soil samples. In the plant sample (wheat), all analytes except ethynyl estradiol were observed.
Conclusion: All contaminants were observed in raw and treated wastewater (treatment plant effluent) and a very positive role of the treatment plant in reducing the concentration was observed. On the other hand, changes in the concentration of pollutants along the channel path were observed. Also, it was concluded that soil particles do not adsorb the target contaminants despite their tendency to be absorbed by plants. Therefore, the entry of contaminated water into arable soil will lead to crop contamination and infiltration into groundwater. The presence and amounts of contaminants in the treated wastewater treatment canal are highly dependent on time and place. Mixing and diluting and entering new sources of contamination in the canal path causes significant changes in the concentration and type of contaminants observed in the samples.


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