Does long-term irrigation with untreated wastewater accelerate the dissipation of pharmaceuticals in soil?

Research paper by Philipp P Dalkmann, Christina C Siebe, Wulf W Amelung, Michael M Schloter, Jan J Siemens

Indexed on: 08 Apr '14Published on: 08 Apr '14Published in: Environmental Science & Technology


Long-term irrigation with untreated wastewater may increase soil microbial adaptation to pollution load and lead to enhanced natural attenuation. We hypothesized that long-term wastewater irrigation accelerates the dissipation of pharmaceuticals. To test our hypothesis we performed an incubation experiment with soils from the Mezquital Valley, Mexico that were irrigated for 0, 14, or 100 years. The results showed that the dissipation half-lives (DT50) of diclofenac (<0.1-1.4 days), bezafibrate (<0.1-4.8 days), sulfamethoxazole (2-33 days), naproxen (6-19 days), carbamazepine (355-1,624 days), and ciprofloxacin were not affected by wastewater irrigation. Trimethoprim dissipation was even slower in soils irrigated for 100 years (DT50: 45-72 days) than in nonirrigated soils (DT50: 12-16 days), was negatively correlated with soil organic matter content and soil-water distribution coefficients, and was inhibited in sterilized soils. Applying a kinetic fate model indicated that long-term irrigation enhanced sequestration of cationic or uncharged trimethoprim and uncharged carbamazepine, but did not affect sequestration of fast-dissipating zwitterions or negatively charged pharmaceuticals. We conclude that microbial adaptation processes play a minor role for pharmaceutical dissipation in wastewater-irrigated soils, while organic matter accumulation in these soils can retard trimethoprim and carbamazepine dissipation.