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Stability of cocaine and its metabolites in municipal wastewater – the case for using metabolite consolidation to monitor cocaine utilization

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Transformations of cocaine and eleven of its metabolites were investigated in untreated municipal sewage at pH ≈ 7 and 9, 23, and 31 °C. Results indicated that hydrolysis—possibly bacterially mediated—was the principal transformation pathway. Residues possessing alkyl esters were particularly susceptible to hydrolysis, with pseudo-first-order rate constants varying from 0.54 to 1.7 day−1 at 23 °C. Metabolites lacking esters or possessing only a benzoyl ester appeared stable. Residues lacking alkyl esters did accumulate through hydrolysis of precursors, however. As noted previously, this may positively bias cocaine utilization estimates based on benzoylecgonine alone. Reported variability in metabolic excretion was used in conjunction with transformation data to evaluate different approaches for estimating cocaine loading. Results indicate that estimates derived from measurands that capture all major cocaine metabolites, such as COCtot (the sum of all measurable metabolites) and EChyd (the sum of all metabolites that can be hydrolyzed to ecgonine), may reduce uncertainty arising from variability in metabolite transformation and excretion, possibly to ≈ 10 % RSD. This is more than a two-fold reduction relative to estimates derived from benzoylecgonine (>26 % RSD), and roughly equivalent to reported uncertainties from sources that are not metabolite-specific (e.g., sampling frequency, flow variability). They and other composite measurands merit consideration from the sewage epidemiology community, beginning with efforts to evaluate the stability of the total cocaine load under realistic sewer conditions.

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We wish to thank Nick Frankos at the BRWWTP for providing us with wastewater samples and Lynn Roberts for providing technical guidance. We also wish to thank David Duewer and Seth Guikema for helpful discussions regarding environmental data distributions.

Conflict of interest

Certain commercial equipment, instruments, or materials are identified in this paper to specify adequately the experimental procedure. Such identification does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, nor does it imply that the materials or equipment identified are necessarily the best available for the purpose.

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Correspondence to Kevin J. Bisceglia.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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The supplementary material contains a reaction schematic (Figure S1) and rate equations used in modeling the hydrolysis of cocaine and its metabolites, as well as a table of model-fitted rate constants (Table S1). It also contains results from the variance/covariance analysis of cocaine and its metabolites in independent urine samples (Table S2). (PDF 720 kb) (PDF 720 kb)

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Bisceglia, K.J., Lippa, K.A. Stability of cocaine and its metabolites in municipal wastewater – the case for using metabolite consolidation to monitor cocaine utilization. Environ Sci Pollut Res 21, 4453–4460 (2014).

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