Investigating human pharmaceutical compounds present in municipal and hospital wastewaters and options for their removal

  • Hamed Al Qarni

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Pharmaceutical compounds comprise a wide range of substances that are consumed in large quantities by modern societies and are generally released into local sewer networks through excretion. This research aimed to identify the factors affecting the removal efficiencies of these compounds in biological wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) under different environmental conditions. Of the pharmaceutical compounds selected for this study, the highest influent concentrations measured in municipal wastewater treatment plants (MWWTPs) were for paracetamol, naproxen and bezafibrate (> 1 μg/L), followed by carbamazepine, atenolol, lidocaine, sulfamethoxazole and NACS (<1 μg/L). In hospital wastewater treatment plants (HWWTPs), the highest concentrations measured were for paracetamol and caffeine (> 10 μg/L), followed by ciprofloxacin and NACS (1–6 μg/L), and finally bezafibrate, carbamazepine, atenolol, lidocaine, clarithromycin and sulfamethoxazole (< 1μg/L). Antibiotic drugs were detected in HWWTPs, but rarely detected in MWWTPs. In general, the hospital wastewaters contained relatively higher levels of pharmaceuticals than municipal wastewaters. The removal efficiencies of the pharmaceutical compounds ranged widely. This was found to be related to characteristics and operational parameters of the individual WWTPs. The MWWTPs that utilized long aeration and biomass retention times (HRT,SRT), as evidenced by the occurrence of complete nitrification, were more efficient at removing paracetamol, naproxen, bezafibrate and atenolol, than the non-nitrifying plants with relatively shorter HRT and SRT. HWWTPs that operated under elevated ambient temperatures (> 26°C) achieved higher removal efficiencies (90%) for several compounds, including paracetamol, caffeine, sulfamethoxazole, ciprofloxacin, clarithromycin, NACS, atenolol, carbamazepine and lidocaine. In addition to the elevated ambient temperatures, elevated HRT and SRT and less dilution can lead to increased active biomass and can result in higher removal rates for the pharmaceutical compounds. Overall, the removal efficiencies of pharmaceuticals in WWTPs have been correlated to the type of treatment plant, the plants’ operational parameters (HRT, SRT), the climatic conditions (temperature and dilution effect of rainfall) and characteristics of the micropollutants (type and concentration). Aerobic and anaerobic batch biodegradation experiments were conducted to observe the removal of paracetamol, naproxen, ibuprofen and sulfamethoxazole at various SRTs. The biodegradation rates varied widely ranging from poor, to moderate, to high, depending on the SRT. Paracetamol was highly biodegradable under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Sulfamethoxazole was poorly biodegradable under aerobic conditions but highly biodegradable under anaerobic conditions. Relatively slow biodegradation rates were observed for ibuprofen and naproxen under both conditions; longer microbial adaptation periods for these two compounds were probably required. The most important factor affecting the removal of the compounds was the SRT. Therefore, the conclusion was drawn that combining anaerobic and aerobic systems with longer SRT and HRT could bring about significant reductions in the emissions of these contaminants into the environment via WWTPs; this is also a cost-effective option.
    Date of AwardNov 2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Abertay University
    SupervisorJoseph Akunna (Supervisor) & Phillip Collier (Supervisor)


    • Wastewater
    • Pharmaceuticals
    • Biodegradation
    • Temperature
    • Aeration time
    • Efficient removal

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