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J Environ Monit. 2011 Apr;13(4):1008-16. doi: 10.1039/c0em00686f. Epub 2011 Feb 18.

A one year investigation of the occurrence of illicit drugs in wastewater from Brussels, Belgium.

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  • 1Toxicological Centre, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, 2610 Antwerp, Belgium.


Daily 24 hour composite influent wastewater samples were collected from the wastewater treatment plant of Brussels-North (Belgium) for eight months to study variations in the concentrations and mass loads of nine illicit drugs and metabolites: cocaine (COC) and its metabolites benzoylecgonine (BE) and ecgonine methyl ester (EME), amphetamine (AMP), methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), methamphetamine (METH), methadone (MTD) and its metabolite 2-ethylidene-1,5-dimethyl-3,3-diphenylpyrrolidine (EDDP) and the specific metabolite of heroin, 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM). Samples were analyzed using a validated analytical method based on solid-phase extraction and hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry. The selected compounds could be detected and quantified in all samples. The measured concentrations were in agreement with earlier published concentrations, when available. All illicit drugs showed significant differences in mass loads between months. Daily variations were observed for MDMA, AMP and COC and metabolites, with higher mass loads observed during the weekend. This is probably related to their recreational consumption pattern and was further confirmed when holiday periods (New Year's Eve, Belgian national holiday) were in detail investigated. For METH, 6-MAM, MTD and EDDP, stable and consistent amounts were observed during the week. In all samples, the ratio of the concentration of the parent compound to its metabolite(s) was calculated to evaluate whether measured concentrations reflect human excretion of the illicit drugs. For MTD, the ratio of parent compound/metabolite was in agreement with the excretion pattern, while for COC some deviations were observed, resulting from excretion pattern uncertainties, and stability and discharge issues.

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