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J Hazard Mater. 2012 Nov 15;239-240:19-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2012.04.030. Epub 2012 Apr 21.

The stability of illicit drugs and metabolites in wastewater, an important issue for sewage epidemiology?

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Toxicological Centre, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Antwerp (UA), University Hospital of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, 2610 Antwerp, Belgium.


The stability of nine illicit drugs and metabolites in influent wastewater at relevant conditions (20 °C and at pH 7.5) was evaluated during 26 h (in 1 h intervals) to assess whether significant in-sewer processes of degradation or formation occur. This assessment is important for the sewage epidemiology approach, which uses concentrations of illicit drugs and metabolites in influent wastewater to back-calculate amounts of these substances used by a community or population. The results of this study showed that amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and EDDP (metabolite of methadone) are stable in wastewater for 12 h and longer. For benzoylecgonine and methadone, a modest formation in the course of time was observed (0.2% per h and 0.4% per h, respectively), while for cocaine (40% degradation after 12 h), ecgonine methylester (20% degradation after 12 h), and 6-monoacetylmorphine (20% degradation after 12 h), a clear decrease in concentrations in time was seen. These findings suggest that for compounds with a significant stability issue, it is important to take their behavior into account when performing back-calculations in sewage epidemiology. However, this study also highlights the need of future research regarding transformation pathways of the individual compounds.

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