Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Occurrence and removal of chemicals of emerging concern in wastewater treatment plants and their impact on receiving water systems

Golovko, Oksana; Orn, Stefan; Sorengard, Mattias; Frieberg, Kim; Nassazzi, Winnie; Lai, Foon Yin; Ahrens, Lutz


Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are considered the main sources of chemicals of emerging concern (CECs) in aquatic environments, and can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems. In this study, WWTP influent, effluent, and sludge, and upstream and downstream waters from the WWTP recipient were investigated at 15 locations for a total of 164 CECs, including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, industrial chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), and pesticides. In addition, zebrafish (Dania rerio) embryo toxicity tests (ZFET) were applied to WWTP influent and effluent, and upstream and downstream waters from WWTP recipients. A total of 119 CECs were detected in at least one sample, mean concentrations ranging from 0.11 ng/L (propylparaben) to 64,000 ng/L (caffeine), in wastewater samples and from 0.44 ng/L (ciprofloxacin) to 19,000 ng/L (metformin) in surface water samples. Large variations of CEC concentrations were found between the selected WWTPs, which can be explained by differences in CEC composition in influent water and WWTP treatment process. The sludge-water partitioning coefficient (K-d) of CECs showed a significant linear con-elation to octanol/warer partition coefficient (K-ow) (p < 0.001), and thus could be used for predicting their fare in the aqueous and solid phase. The Sigma CEC concentrations in WWTPs declined by on average 60%, based on comparisons of WWTP influent and effluent concentrations. The high concentrations of CECs in WWTP effluent resulted in, on average, 50% higher concentrations of CECs in water downstream of WWTPs compared with upstream. Some WWTP samples showed toxicity in ZFET compared with the respective control group, but no individual CECs or groups of CECs could explain this toxicity. These results could provide a theoretical basis for optimization of existing treatment systems of different designs, and could significantly contribute to protecting recipient waters. (C) 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.


Contaminants; Recipient; Removal efficiency; Toxicity; Wastewater

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2021, Volume: 754, article number: 142122
Publisher: ELSEVIER