Removal of Pharmaceuticals in Sewage Treatment Plants in Italy

A listing of “priority pharmaceuticals” for human use in Italy resulted in the selection of 26 pharmaceuticals, belonging to 11 therapeutic classes. They were analyzed by liquid chromatography−tandem mass spectrometry, their occurrence was assessed in six sewage treatment plants (STPs), and the loads and the removal rates (RR) were studied. Total loads ranged from 1.5 to 4.5 g/day/1000 inhabitants in influents and 1.0 and 3.0 g/day/1000 inhabitants in effluents. Total RR in STPs were mostly lower than 40%. Pharmaceuticals could be divided into three groups according to their behavior in STPs:  one group with RR higher in summer than in winter, one group with RR similar in summer and winter, and a last group not removed. Last, we studied the distribution and fate of residual pharmaceuticals in the surface waters receiving the effluents of the STPs and identified degradation and sorption as the major factors affecting attenuation. Ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, sulfamethoxazole (antibiotics), atenolol (cardiovascular drug), ibuprofen (antiinflammatory), furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide (diuretics), ranitidine (gastrointestinal drug), and bezafibrate (lipid regulator) were the most abundant residual drugs, thus those of environmental concern.