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An uncertainty and sensitivity analysis applied to the prioritisation of pharmaceuticals as surface water contaminants from wastewater treatment plant direct emissions

2014 / Sérgio Alberto Morais, Cristina Delerue-Matos, Xavier Gabarrell

Science of The Total Environment, Volume 490, 15 August 2014, Pages 342-350

Highlights • We present an environmental prioritisation of pharmaceuticals in Europe. • Confidence intervals on impact results were estimated by Monte Carlo analysis. • Several drugs of concern were identified, such as mefenamic acid and tamixofen. • The study helped identify priorities on further experimental testing and monitoring. Abstract In this study, the concentration probability distributions of 82 pharmaceutical compounds detected in the effluents of 179 European wastewater treatment plants were computed and inserted into a multimedia fate model. The comparative ecotoxicological impact of the direct emission of these compounds from wastewater treatment plants on freshwater ecosystems, based on a potentially affected fraction (PAF) of species approach, was assessed to rank compounds based on priority. As many pharmaceuticals are acids or bases, the multimedia fate model accounts for regressions to estimate pH-dependent fate parameters. An uncertainty analysis was performed by means of Monte Carlo analysis, which included the uncertainty of fate and ecotoxicity model input variables, as well as the spatial variability of landscape characteristics on the European continental scale. Several pharmaceutical compounds were identified as being of greatest concern, including 7 analgesics/anti-inflammatories, 3 ?-blockers, 3 psychiatric drugs, and 1 each of 6 other therapeutic classes. The fate and impact modelling relied extensively on estimated data, given that most of these compounds have little or no experimental fate or ecotoxicity data available, as well as a limited reported occurrence in effluents. The contribution of estimated model input variables to the variance of freshwater ecotoxicity impact, as well as the lack of experimental abiotic degradation data for most compounds, helped in establishing priorities for further testing. Generally, the effluent concentration and the ecotoxicity effect factor were the model input variables with the most significant effect on the uncertainty of output results. Keywords Pharmaceuticals; Multimedia fate model; Freshwater ecotoxicity; Ionisable organics; Uncertainty analysis; Wastewater treatment plants