US Geological Survey
Persistence of pharmaceutical compounds and other organic wastewater contaminants in a conventional drinking-water-treatment plant
Date of this Version
In a study conducted by the US Geological Survey and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 water samples were collected at selected locations within a drinking-water-treatment (DWT) facility and from the two streams that serve the facility to evaluate the potential for wastewater-related organic contaminants to survive a conventional treatment process and persist in potable-water supplies. Stream-water samples as well as samples of raw, settled, filtered, and finished water were collected during low-flow conditions, when the discharge of effluent from upstream municipal sewage-treatment plants accounted for 37–67% of flow in stream 1 and 10–20% of flow in stream 2. Each sample was analyzed for 106 organic wastewater-related contaminants (OWCs) that represent a diverse group of extensively used chemicals.Forty OWCs were detected in one or more samples of stream water or raw-water supplies in the treatment plant; 34 were detected in more than 10% of these samples. Several of these compounds also were frequently detected in samples of finished water; these compounds include selected prescription and non-prescription drugs and their metabolites, fragrance compounds, flame retardants and plasticizers, cosmetic compounds, and a solvent. The detection of these compounds suggests that they resist removal through conventional water-treatment processes. Other compounds that also were frequently detected in samples of stream water and rawwater supplies were not detected in samples of finished water; these include selected prescription and non-prescription drugs and their metabolites, disinfectants, detergent metabolites, and plant and animal steroids. The non-detection of these compounds indicates that their concentrations are reduced to levels less than analytical detection limits or that they are transformed to degradates through conventional DWT processes. Concentrations of OWCs detected in finished water generally were low and did not exceed Federal drinking-water standards or lifetime health advisories, although such standards or advisories have not been established for most of these compounds. Also, at least 11 and as many as 17 OWCs were detected in samples of finished water. Drinking-water criteria currently are based on the toxicity of individual compounds and not combinations of compounds. Little is known about potential human-health effects associated with chronic exposure to trace levels of multiple OWCs through routes such as drinking water. The occurrence in drinking-water supplies of many of the OWCs analyzed for during this study is unregulated and most of these compounds have not been routinely monitored for in the Nation’s source- or potable-water supplies. This study provides the first documentation that many of these compounds can survive conventional water-treatment processes and occur in potable-water supplies. It thereby provides information that can be used in setting research and regulatory priorities and in designing future monitoring programs. The results of this study also indicate that improvements in water-treatment processes may benefit from consideration of the response of OWCs and other trace organic contaminants to specific physical and chemical treatments.
Published in Science of the Total Environment 329 (2004) 99–113