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Pre/post-closure assessment of groundwater pharmaceutical fate in a wastewater‑facility-impacted stream reach

June 27, 2016

Pharmaceutical contamination of contiguous groundwater is a substantial concern in wastewater-impacted streams, due to ubiquity in effluent, high aqueous mobility, designed bioactivity, and to effluent-driven hydraulic gradients. Wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) closures are rare environmental remediation events; offering unique insights into contaminant persistence, long-term wastewater impacts, and ecosystem recovery processes. The USGS conducted a combined pre/post-closure groundwater assessment adjacent to an effluent-impacted reach of Fourmile Creek, Ankeny, Iowa, USA. Higher surface-water concentrations, consistent surface-water to groundwater concentration gradients, and sustained groundwater detections tens of meters from the stream bank demonstrated the importance of WWTF effluent as the source of groundwater pharmaceuticals as well as the persistence of these contaminants under effluent-driven, pre-closure conditions. The number of analytes (110 total) detected in surface water decreased from 69 prior to closure down to 8 in the first post-closure sampling event approximately 30 d later, with a corresponding 2 order of magnitude decrease in the cumulative concentration of detected analytes. Post-closure cumulative concentrations of detected analytes were approximately 5 times higher in proximal groundwater than in surface water. About 40% of the 21 contaminants detected in a downstream groundwater transect immediately before WWTF closure exhibited rapid attenuation with estimated half-lives on the order of a few days; however, a comparable number exhibited no consistent attenuation during the year-long post-closure assessment. The results demonstrate the potential for effluent-impacted shallow groundwater systems to accumulate pharmaceutical contaminants and serve as long-term residual sources, further increasing the risk of adverse ecological effects in groundwater and the near-stream ecosystem.

Publication Year 2016
Title Pre/post-closure assessment of groundwater pharmaceutical fate in a wastewater‑facility-impacted stream reach
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.06.104
Authors Paul M. Bradley, Larry B. Barber, Jimmy M. Clark, Joseph W. Duris, William T. Foreman, Edward T. Furlong, Carrie E. Givens, Laura E. Hubbard, Kasey J. Hutchinson, Celeste A. Journey, Steffanie H. Keefe, Dana W. Kolpin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70174059
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Toxic Substances Hydrology Program; South Atlantic Water Science Center