Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 1000–1012 | Cite as

Assessing the effects of tertiary treated wastewater reuse on the presence emerging contaminants in a Mediterranean river (Llobregat, NE Spain)

  • Rebeca López-Serna
  • Cristina Postigo
  • Juan Blanco
  • Sandra PérezEmail author
  • Antoni Ginebreda
  • Miren López de Alda
  • Mira Petrović
  • Antoni Munné
  • Damià Barceló
Research Article



The Llobregat River, which is characterized by important fluctuations of the flow rates, receives treated waters from WWTPs. During the years 2007 and 2008, the Llobregat River basin suffered from a severe drought which affected the supply of drinking water facilities (DWF) that rely on the exploitation of the river water. The Catalan Water Agency implemented a water reuse experiment with the objective of maintaining the river flow rate at sufficiently high level so as to ensure the supply of raw water to Barcelona’s major DWF.


A total of 103 emerging contaminants belonging to the groups of pharmaceuticals (74), illicit drugs (17) and oestrogens (12) were determined using LC-MS/MS methods in river water samples during the water reuse campaign. The effect of the reclaimed water discharge on the river water quality, in terms of contamination loads and environmental risk (based on the concentration addition mode), is discussed.


Fifty-eight pharmaceuticals out of 74 monitored were detected at least in one sample. In river water upstream (site R0) majority of compounds were detected at low nanograms per litre levels, while downstream of discharge of tertiary effluent only few compounds were detected at levels higher than 100 ng L−1 (i.e. acetaminophen, diclofenac, erythromycin, sulfamethazine), but never exceeding 500 ng L−1. The total concentration of illicit drugs was found to be very low at both sampling sites (<50 ng L−1). No relevant ecotoxicity risks were identified, except for pharmaceuticals vs. algae.


In general, the discharge of reclaimed water in the river influenced perceptibly in terms of concentrations, mass loads and environmental risk, especially for pharmaceuticals and in less extent for illicit drugs. Nevertheless, it was not very significant in any case.


Emerging contaminants Pharmaceutical Illicit drugs Oestrogens LC-MS Wastewater treatment Reclaimed water Llobregat River Mass balances Risk assessment Hazard quotients Oestrogenic equivalents 



This work has been supported by the Catalan Water Agency, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation [projects Cemagua CGL2007-64551/HID and Consolider-Ingenio 2010 Scarce CSD2009-00065]. Merck is acknowledged for the gift of LC columns and Spark Holland for the gift of online SPE cartridges. RLS acknowledges the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science for the economical support through the FPI pre-doctoral grant. CP acknowledges AGAUR (Generalitat de Catalunya, Spain) for their economical support through the FI pre-doctoral grant. SP acknowledges the contract from the Ramón y Cajal Program of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Supplementary material

11356_2011_596_MOESM1_ESM.doc (702 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 701 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebeca López-Serna
    • 1
  • Cristina Postigo
    • 1
  • Juan Blanco
    • 1
  • Sandra Pérez
    • 1
    Email author
  • Antoni Ginebreda
    • 1
  • Miren López de Alda
    • 1
  • Mira Petrović
    • 1
    • 3
  • Antoni Munné
    • 4
  • Damià Barceló
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ChemistryIDAEA-CSICBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Catalan Institute of Water ResearchGironaSpain
  3. 3.Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA)BarcelonaSpain
  4. 4.Catalan Water AgencyBarcelonaSpain
  5. 5.King Saud UniversityRiyadhSaudi Arabia

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