Environmental exposure of pharmaceuticals and musk fragrances in the Somes River before and after upgrading the municipal wastewater treatment plant Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Background, aim, and scope Pharmaceutically active substances are a class of emerging contaminants, which has led to increasing concern about potential environmental risks. After excretion, substantial amounts of unchanged pharmaceuticals and their metabolites are discharged into domestic wastewaters. The absence of data on the environmental exposure in Eastern Europe is significant, since use patterns and volumes differ from country to country. In Romania, the majority of wastewater, from highly populated cities and industrial complex zones, is still discharged into surface waters without proper treatment or after inefficient treatment. In respect to this, it is important to determine the environmental occurrence and behavior of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in wastewaters and surface waters. The objective of the present study was to investigate the occurrence of selected PPCPs during the transport in the Somes River by mass flow analysis before and after upgrading a municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in Cluj-Napoca, which serves 350,000 inhabitants and is the largest plant discharging into the Somes River. The concentrations of PPCPs at Cluj-Napoca can be correlated with the high population and a high number of hospitals located in the catchment area leading to higher mass flows. The results of this study are expected to provide information, with respect to the Romanian conditions, for environmental scientists, WWTP operators, and legal authorities. The data should support the improvement of existing WWTPs and implementation of new ones where necessary and, therefore, minimize the input of contaminants into ambient waters.
Materials and methods The PPCPs were selected on the basis of consumption at the regional scale, reported aquatic toxicity, and the suitability of the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) method for the determination of the compounds at trace levels. The studied PPCPs, caffeine (stimulant), carbamazepine (antiepileptic), pentoxifylline (anticoagulant), cyclophosphamide (cytostatic), ibuprofen (analgesic), and galaxolide (musk fragrance), were determined in samples of the Somes River. The analytes were enriched by solid-phase extraction and subsequently determined by GC/MS. Caffeine, pentoxifylline, and galaxolide were determined underivatized, whereas the acidic pharmaceuticals carbamazepine, cyclophosphamide, and ibuprofen were determined after derivatization with N-methyl-N-(trimethylsilyl)-trifluoroacetamide.
Results and discussion The concentrations in the Somes River varied from below 10 ng/L up to 10 μg/L. A substantial decrease of the exposure in the Somes River could be observed due to the upgrade of the municipal WWTP in Cluj-Napoca. The loads in the river stretch between Cluj-Napoca and Dej (Somes Mic) varied strongly: caffeine (400–2,000 g/day), carbamazepine (78–213 g/day), galaxolide (140–684 g/day), ibuprofen (84–108 g/day). After the upgrade of the WWTP Cluj-Napoca, the concentrations in the Somes of caffeine, pentoxifylline, cyclophosphamide, galaxolide, and tonalide were significantly reduced (over 75%). One might be cautious comparing both studies because the relative efficiency of the WWTP’s removal of PPCP was not evaluated. However, the significantly lower concentrations of most compounds after the upgrade of the WWTP Cluj-Napoca allow one to infer that the technical measures at the source substantially reduced inputs of contaminants to the receiving river. Dej loads of the poorly biodegradable substance carbamazepine increased by a factor of 2–3 as a result of wastewater discharges into the river. The disproportionate increase in caffeine loads by a factor of 4 below Cluj-Napoca indicates inputs of untreated wastewater from the Somes Mare due to the discharge of untreated wastewater derived from Bistrita, Nasaud, and Beclean (115,000 inhabitants).
Conclusions The relative contribution of treated and untreated wastewater in surface water might be assessed by measuring chemical markers. Recalcitrant pharmaceuticals like carbamazepine are suitable as chemical markers for estimating the relative contribution of wastewater in surface water. The easily degradable caffeine might be a good indicator for raw sewage and hardly treated wastewaters.
Recommendations and perspectives Municipal WWTPs have the potential of a significant contribution in reducing the load of contaminants to ambient waters. The efficiency of the wastewater treatment in Cluj-Napoca improved considerably after the upgrade of the WWTP. Therefore, it is crucial that several WWTPs must be implemented or improved in the Somes Valley Watershed in order to reduce the discharge of contaminants in the Somes River from these point sources.