Occurrence and removal of pharmaceutical compounds and steroids at four wastewater treatment plants in Hawai'i and their environmental fate

Matteo D'Alessio, Sathaporn Onanong, Daniel D. Snow, Chittaranjan Ray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The occurrence of pharmaceutical and steroid compounds in groundwater due to wastewater reuse has been reported and is of concern in tropical islands which primarily rely on groundwater. The objective of this study was to investigate the occurrence and removal of 43 pharmaceutical and steroid compounds detected in wastewater at four different wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in Hawai‘i and to understand their environmental behavior through tropical soils as the treated effluents are used in landscapes for irrigation. Eight soil sampling locations, collected at three different depths, representing the most common soil types in Hawai‘i and four WWTPs located across the major Hawaiian Islands were used. Disturbed soil samples were used to conduct the soil sorption and degradation studies and to estimate the leaching risk associated to the identified compounds. Quantification of selected compounds was conducted using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Among the investigated compounds, only ten were detected in the treated effluents at concentrations ranging from 0.004 to 0.900 μg L−1. Caffeine (64 μg L−1) and ibuprofen (96.5 μg L−1) showed the highest concentration in raw samples, while diphenhydramine (0.9 μg L−1) showed the highest concentration in treated effluent samples. Sulfamethoxazole showed the lowest removal (0–75%). Several pharmaceuticals showed consistently higher sorption capacity and longer persistency compared with steroids regardless of soil types and depths. Poamoho (Oxisol soil) and Waimānalo (Mollisol soil) showed the highest sorption capacity, while Waimea (Entisol soil) showed the lowest sorption capacity. Soil physico-chemical properties (i.e., clay content, level of organic carbon, and presence of metal oxide) and soil depth highly impacted the sorption behavior of the selected pharmaceutical compounds. In particular, the sorption capacity decreased with soil depth due to the higher level of organic carbon present in the first 30 cm compared with the deeper depths (60–90 cm).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1360-1370
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • Environmental fate
  • Hawaiian soils
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Steroids
  • Wastewater treatment plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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