Pharmaceuticals and Antiseptics: Occurrence and Fate in Drinking Water, Sewage Treatment Facilities, and Coastal Waters

EPA Grant Number: R829004
Title: Pharmaceuticals and Antiseptics: Occurrence and Fate in Drinking Water, Sewage Treatment Facilities, and Coastal Waters
Investigators: Roberts, A. Lynn , Bouwer, Edward J.
Institution: The Johns Hopkins University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Project Period: September 1, 2001 through August 31, 2004 (Extended to August 9, 2006)
Project Amount: $524,890
RFA: Drinking Water (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Drinking Water , Water Quality , Water


Although recent European studies have revealed the presence of an array of non-hormonal, non-antibiotic pharmaceuticals and antiseptics in surface waters, sewage treatment plant effluents, and even in drinking water, present information concerning their occurrence, (eco)toxic risk, and fate in the U.S. is virtually nonexistent. This research is designed to redress critical aspects of this current state of near-ignorance by providing an assessment of the prevalence of important pharmaceuticals and antiseptics in drinking water, sewage treatment plants (STPs), and receiving waters.


Final selection of target compounds will be based in part on calculations of potential environmental concentrations and (where possible) environmental risk associated with existing products (Task 1), along with preliminary screening studies in STPs. Analytical methods previously developed elsewhere will be refined (Task 2) so as to provide the extremely high sensitivity needed for analyzing trace concentrations in drinking water, while relying on benchtop GC/MS techniques that can readily be adopted by others. We are confident that by modifying derivatization methods to take advantage of the sensitivity and selectivity of negative chemical ionization GC/MS, and by using large-volume injection techniques, we can attain detection limits three orders of magnitude below those reported by others. In Task 3, concentrations of analytes will be determined in raw and finished drinking water samples obtained from public utilities across the U.S. Removal efficiencies will be related to treatment processes employed. In Task 4, the adequacy of current wastewater treatment practices for reducing emission of pharmaceuticals and antiseptics will be examined by measuring their concentrations at three STPs (Deer Island in Boston, MA; Back River and Patapsco STPs in Baltimore, MD). Two (Deer Island and Back River) receive substantial hospital wastewater inputs, and Back River discharges its treated effluent to the Chesapeake Bay, the largest and most important estuary in the U.S. In Task 5 we will examine the biodegradability of selected pharmaceuticals and antiseptics in simulated wastewater treatment systems and in real wastewater, in order to examine the influence of interactions with co-contaminants on biodegradability at the low levels encountered in the environment. Finally, in Task 6, we will determine vertical and longitudinal distributions of target pharmaceuticals and antiseptics in the upper Chesapeake Bay to seek evidence of rapid natural attenuation.

Expected Results:

Based on recent studies conducted in Europe, we expect to encounter an array of pharmaceuticals in raw surface water supplies and in STP influent and effluent. The specific compounds (and concentrations) encountered are, however, likely to be very different, reflecting variations in therapeutic and water/wastewater treatment practices. The results of this study will quantify the effectiveness of current water and wastewater treatment practices for removing major pharmaceuticals and antiseptics. It will also provide exposure data needed to assess whether human and ecotoxic effects could be associated with pharmaceuticals and antiseptics in the environment. Finally, the results will be helpful in indicating whether natural removal processes are able to attenuate concentrations of what may prove to be a significant class of organic micropollutants.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 20 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

groundwater, estuary, risk assessment, environmental engineering, environmental chemistry, analytical chemistry., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Waste, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Wastewater, Environmental Chemistry, Fate & Transport, Monitoring/Modeling, Analytical Chemistry, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Drinking Water, Groundwater remediation, Environmental Engineering, fate and transport, monitoring, pharmaceuticals, exposure and effects, exposure, other - risk assessment, chemical contaminants, surface water, wastewater treatment plants, personal care products, groundwater monitoring, treatment, analytical methods, drinking water contaminants, effluents, water treatment, groundwater, sewage treatment plants

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2003 Progress Report
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • 2005 Progress Report
  • Final Report