A large number of emerging contaminants (ECs) are known to persist in surface waters, and create pressure on wastewater treatment works (WWTW) for their effective removal. Although a large database for the levels of these pollutants in water systems exist globally, there is still a lack in the correlation of the levels of these pollutants with possible long-term adverse health effects in wildlife and humans, such as endocrine disruption. The current study detected a total of 55 ECs in WWTW influent surface water, 41 ECs in effluent, and 40 ECs in environmental waters located upstream and downstream of the plant. A list of ECs persisted through the WWTW process, with 28% of all detected ECs removed by less than 50%, and 18% of all ECs were removed by less than 25%. Negative mass balances of some pharmaceuticals and metabolites were observed within the WWTW, suggesting possible back-transformation of ECs during wastewater treatment. Three parental illicit drug compounds were detected within the influent of the WWTW, with concentrations ranging between 27.6 and 147.0 ng L−1 for cocaine, 35.6–120.6 ng L−1 for mephedrone, and 270.9–450.2 ng L−1 for methamphetamine. The related environmental risks are also discussed for some ECs, with particular reference to their ability to disrupt endocrine systems. The current study propose the potential of the pharmaceuticals carbamazepine, naproxen, diclofenac and ibuprofen to be regarded as priority ECs for environmental monitoring due to their regular detection and persistence in environmental waters and their possible contribution towards adverse health effects in humans and wildlife.
- Endocrine disrupting contaminants (EDCs)
- Illicit drugs
- Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs)
- Risk assessment