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Antidepressants and their metabolites in municipal wastewater, and downstream exposure in an urban watershed



Antidepressants are a widely prescribed group of pharmaceuticals that can be biotransformed in humans to biologically active metabolites. In the present study, the distribution of six antidepressants (venlafaxine, bupropion, fluoxetine, sertraline, citalopram, and paroxetine) and five of their metabolites was determined in a municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) and at sites downstream of two WWTPs in the Grand River watershed in southern Ontario, Canada. Fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) caged in the Grand River downstream of a WWTP were also evaluated for accumulated antidepressants. Finally, drinking water was analyzed from a treatment plant that takes its water from the Grand River 17 km downstream of a WWTP. In municipal wastewater, the antidepressant compounds present in the highest concentrations (i.e., >0.5 µg/L) were venlafaxine and its two demethylation products, O- and N-desmethyl venlafaxine. Removal rates of the target analytes in a WWTP were approximately 40%. These compounds persisted in river water samples collected at sites up to several kilometers downstream of discharges from WWTPs. Venlafaxine, citalopram, and sertraline, and demethylated metabolites were detected in fathead minnows caged 10 m below the discharge from a WWTP, but concentrations were all <7 µg/kg wet weight. Venlafaxine and bupropion were detected at very low (<0.005 µg/L) concentrations in untreated drinking water, but these compounds were not detected in treated drinking water. The present study illustrates that data are needed on the distribution in the aquatic environment of both the parent compound and the biologically active metabolites of pharmaceuticals. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2010;29:79–89. © 2009 SETAC