Drugs of abuse and their metabolites in the Ebro River basin: occurrence in sewage and surface water, sewage treatment plants removal efficiency, and collective drug usage estimation.Environ Int 2010; 36(1):75-84EI
Drugs of abuse and their metabolites have been recently recognized as environmental emerging organic contaminants. Assessment of their concentration in different environmental compartments is essential to evaluate their potential ecotoxicological effects. It also constitutes an indirect tool to estimate drug abuse by the population at the community level. The present work reports for the first time the occurrence of drugs of abuse and metabolites residues along the Ebro River basin (NE Spain) and also evaluates the contribution of sewage treatment plants (STPs) effluents to the presence of these chemicals in natural surface waters. Concentrations measured in influent sewage waters were used to back calculate drug usage at the community level in the main urban areas of the investigated river basin. The most ubiquitous and abundant compounds in the studied aqueous matrices were cocaine, benzoylecgonine, ephedrine and ecstasy. Lysergic compounds, heroin, its metabolite 6-monoacetyl morphine, and Delta(9)-tetradhydrocannabinol were the substances less frequently detected. Overall, total levels of the studied illicit drugs and metabolites observed in surface water (in the low ng/L range) were one and two orders of magnitude lower than those determined in effluent (in the ng/L range) and influent sewage water (microg/L range), respectively. The investigated STPs showed overall removal efficiencies between 45 and 95%. Some compounds, such as cocaine and amphetamine, were very efficiently eliminated (>90%) whereas others, such as ecstasy, methamphetamine, nor-LSD, and THC-COOH where occasionally not eliminated at all. Drug consumption estimates pointed out cocaine as the most abused drug, followed by cannabis, amphetamine, heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamine, which slightly differs from national official estimates (cannabis, followed by cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamine and heroin). Extrapolation of the consumption data obtained for the studied area to Spain points out a total annual consumption of drugs of abuse of the order of 36 tonnes, which would translate into 1100million Euros in the black market.