The impact of temperature on the transformation of illicit drug biomarkers in wastewater

Pedram Ramin, Fabio Polesel, Andreas Libonati Brock, Benedek Gy Plósz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (SciVal)
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Temperature is one of the key factors, influencing the transformation kinetics of organic chemicals. In the context of wastewater-based epidemiology, however, temperature differences among sewer catchments and within the same catchment (due to, e.g., seasonal variations) have been neglected to date as a factor influencing the estimation of illicit drug consumption. In this study, we assessed the influence of temperature on the transformation of biomarkers in wastewater and its ensuing implications on the back-calculation of chemical consumption rate in urban catchments using the example of selected illicit drugs. Literature data, obtained in laboratory-scale experiments, on the stability of drug biomarkers in untreated wastewater at trace levels was systematically reviewed, and transformation rates obtained at different temperatures were collected. Arrhenius-based equations were fitted to empirical data and identified to describe the transformation of selected cocaine and morphine biomarkers at applicability temperature range (from 2–9 °C to 30–31 °C), with estimated exponential Arrhenius coefficients between 1.04 and 1.18. These empirically-derived relationships were used to assess the influence of temperature on the transformation of drug biomarkers during in-sewer transport and its effect on the back-calculation of drug consumption rate in hypothetical urban catchment scenario simulations. Up to 4-fold increase in removal efficiency was estimated when wastewater temperature increased from 15 °C to 25 °C. Findings from this study can help reducing the uncertainty intrinsic to wastewater-based epidemiology studies, and will be beneficial in comparing chemical consumption estimates from different catchments worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1612-1616
Number of pages5
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date23 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2018


  • Arrhenius equation
  • Biotransformation
  • Illicit drugs
  • Stability
  • Temperature
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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