• Pharmaceuticals;
  • Wastewater;
  • Reclaimed water;
  • Soil;
  • Leaching tendencies


Three sites in the Front Range of Colorado, USA, were monitored from May through September 2003 to assess the presence and distribution of pharmaceuticals in soil irrigated with reclaimed water derived from urban wastewater. Soil cores were collected monthly, and 19 pharmaceuticals, all of which were detected during the present study, were measured in 5-cm increments of the 30-cm cores. Samples of reclaimed water were analyzed three times during the study to assess the input of pharmaceuticals. Samples collected before the onset of irrigation in 2003 contained numerous pharmaceuticals, likely resulting from the previous year's irrigation. Several of the selected pharmaceuticals increased in total soil concentration at one or more of the sites. The four most commonly detected pharmaceuticals were erythromycin, carbamazepine, fluoxetine, and diphenhydramine. Typical concentrations of the individual pharmaceuticals observed were low (0.02–15 μg/kg dry soil). The existence of subsurface maximum concentrations and detectable concentrations at the lowest sampled soil depth might indicate interactions of soil components with pharmaceuticals during leaching through the vadose zone. Nevertheless, the present study demonstrates that reclaimed-water irrigation results in soil pharmaceutical concentrations that vary through the irrigation season and that some compounds persist for months after irrigation.