Wastewater-based epidemiology to assess pan-European pesticide exposure

Nikolaos I. Rousis, Emma Gracia-Lor, Ettore Zuccato, Richard Bade, Jose Antonio Baz-Lomba, Erika Castrignanò, Ana Causanilles, Adrian Covaci, Pim de Voogt, Félix Hernández, Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, Juliet Kinyua, Ann-Kathrin McCall, Benedek G. Plósz, Pedram Ramin, Yeonsuk Ryu, Kevin V. Thomas, Alexander van Nuijs, Zhugen Yang, Sara Castiglioni

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Human biomonitoring, i.e. the determination of chemicals and/or their metabolites in human specimens, is the most common and potent tool for assessing human exposure to pesticides, but it suffers from limitations such as high costs and biases in sampling. Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is an innovative approach based on the chemical analysis of specific human metabolic excretion products (biomarkers) in wastewater, and provides objective and real-time information on xenobiotics directly or indirectly ingested by a population. This study applied the WBE approach for the first time to evaluate human exposure to pesticides in eight cities across Europe. 24 h-composite wastewater samples were collected from the main wastewater treatment plants and analyzed for urinary metabolites of three classes of pesticides, namely triazines, organophosphates and pyrethroids, by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. The mass loads (mg/day/1000 inhabitants) were highest for organophosphates and lowest for triazines. Different patterns were observed among the cities and for the various classes of pesticides. Population weighted loads of specific biomarkers indicated higher exposure in Castellon, Milan, Copenhagen and Bristol for pyrethroids, and in Castellon, Bristol and Zurich for organophosphates. The lowest mass loads (mg/day/1000 inhabitants) were found in Utrecht and Oslo. These results were in agreement with several national statistics related to pesticides exposure such as pesticides sales. The daily intake of pyrethroids was estimated in each city and it was found to exceed the acceptable daily intake (ADI) only in one city (Castellon, Spain). This was the first large-scale application of WBE to monitor population exposure to pesticides. The results indicated that WBE can give new information about the "average exposure" of the population to pesticides, and is a useful complementary biomonitoring tool to study population-wide exposure to pesticides.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWater Research
Pages (from-to)270-279
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Biomonitoring
  • Human intake
  • Human urinary metabolites
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Pesticides
  • Urban wastewater


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