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Occurrence of neutral and acidic drugs in the effluents of Canadian sewage treatment plants



Samples of influent (untreated) and effluent (treated) from 18 sewage treatment plants (STPs) in 14 municipalities in Canada were analyzed for residues of selected prescription and nonprescription drugs. Several neutral and acidic drugs were detected in effluents, including analgesic/anti-inflammatory agents, lipid regulators, and an antiepileptic drug, carbamazepine. Residues were extracted from effluents by solid-phase extraction, followed by either methylation and analysis of acidic drugs by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry or direct analysis of neutral drugs by liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry. Analgesic/anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as the metabolite of acetylsalicyclic acid, salicylic acid, were often detected in final effluents at μg/L concentrations. The acidic lipid regulator, clofibric acid, and the analgesic/anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac were not detected in any final effluent samples, which is not consistent with data from Europe. The precursor to clofibric acid, clofibrate, is not widely prescribed as a lipid regulator in Canada. However, the lipid regulators bezafibrate and gemfibrozil were detected in some samples of influent and effluent. The chemotherapy drugs ifosfamide and cyclophosphamide and the anti-inflammatory phenazone were not detected in influent or effluent samples, but the vasodilator drug pentoxyfylline was detected at ng/L concentrations in some final effluents. The widespread occurrence of carbamazepine at concentrations as high as 2.3 μg/L may be explained by use of this drug for other therapeutic purposes besides treatment of epilepsy and its resistance to elimination in STPs. The rates of elimination of ibuprofen and naproxen appeared to be elevated in STPs with hydraulic retention times for sewage greater than 12 h.