Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 395, Issue 3, pp 819–828 | Cite as

Analysis of drugs of abuse in wastewater by hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry

  • Alexander L. N. van Nuijs
  • Isabela Tarcomnicu
  • Lieven Bervoets
  • Ronny Blust
  • Philippe G. Jorens
  • Hugo Neels
  • Adrian Covaci
Original Paper


The simultaneous analysis of nine drugs of abuse (DOAs) and their metabolites (amphetamine, methamphetamine, methylenedioxymethamphetamine, methadone, 2-ethylidene-1,5-dimethyl-3,3-diphenylpyrrolidine, cocaine, benzoylecgonine, ecgonine methyl ester and 6-monoacetylmorphine) in wastewater based on hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography (HILIC) coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) was optimised and validated. For each analyte, the deuterated analogue was used for quantification. The separation by HILIC showed good performance for all compounds, especially for the hydrophilic compounds, which elute early (amphetamine-like stimulants) or show no retention (ecgonine methyl ester) in reversed-phase liquid chromatography. Sample preparation based on solid-phase extraction was optimised by comparing Oasis HLB and Oasis MCX sorbents for various parameters such as sample pH, amount of sorbent bed and washing solvent. The method was validated for each compound by assessing the following parameters (following International Conference on Harmonisation guidelines): specificity, limit of quantification (LOQ), linearity, accuracy, precision, recovery and matrix effects. LOQs were 2 ng/L for 6-monoacetylmorphine, ecgonine methyl ester and amphetamine and 1 ng/L for the rest of the compounds, corresponding with the lowest point in the calibration curve. Except for 6-monoacetylmorphine, all compounds were detected from 1 to 819 ng/L in influent wastewater samples (n = 12) collected from 11 different wastewater treatment plants across Belgium. The presence of ecgonine methyl ester in wastewater could be demonstrated for the first time. In the future, the new HILIC–MS/MS method will be applied to assess the use of DOAs in Belgium using the “sewage epidemiology” approach.


Drugs of abuse Metabolites HILIC–MS/MS Wastewater SPE Validation 



Alexander van Nuijs and Dr. Adrian Covaci acknowledge the Flanders Scientific Funds for Research (FWO) for their grants. Dr. Isabela Tarcomnicu is grateful to the University of Antwerp for financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander L. N. van Nuijs
    • 1
  • Isabela Tarcomnicu
    • 1
  • Lieven Bervoets
    • 2
  • Ronny Blust
    • 2
  • Philippe G. Jorens
    • 3
  • Hugo Neels
    • 1
  • Adrian Covaci
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Toxicological CentreUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Biology, Laboratory for Ecophysiology, Biochemistry and ToxicologyUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Clinical Pharmacology/Clinical ToxicologyUniversity of Antwerp, Antwerp University HospitalAntwerpBelgium

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