Many scientific studies present removal efficiencies for pharmaceuticals in laboratory-, pilot-, and full-scale wastewater treatment plants, based on observations that may be impacted by theoretical and methodological approaches used. In this Critical Review, we evaluated factors influencing observed removal efficiencies of three antibiotics (sulfamethoxazole, ciprofloxacin, tetracycline) in pilot- and full-scale biological treatment systems. Factors assessed include (i) retransformation to parent pharmaceuticals from e.g., conjugated metabolites and analogues, (ii) solid retention time (SRT), (iii) fractions sorbed onto solids, and (iv) dynamics in influent and effluent loading. A recently developed methodology was used, relying on the comparison of removal efficiency predictions (obtained with the Activated Sludge Model for Xenobiotics (ASM-X)) with representative measured data from literature. By applying this methodology, we demonstrated that (a) the elimination of sulfamethoxazole may be significantly underestimated when not considering retransformation from conjugated metabolites, depending on the type (urban or hospital) and size of upstream catchments; (b) operation at extended SRT may enhance antibiotic removal, as shown for sulfamethoxazole; (c) not accounting for fractions sorbed in influent and effluent solids may cause slight underestimation of ciprofloxacin removal efficiency. Using tetracycline as example substance, we ultimately evaluated implications of effluent dynamics and retransformation on environmental exposure and risk prediction.
Polesel, F., Andersen, H. R., Trapp, S., & Plósz, B. G. (2016). Removal of Antibiotics in Biological Wastewater Treatment Systems—A Critical Assessment Using the Activated Sludge Modeling Framework for Xenobiotics (ASM-X). Environmental Science and Technology, 50(19), 10316–10334. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.6b01899