Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 10, pp 9254–9264 | Cite as

River biofilm community changes related to pharmaceutical loads emitted by a wastewater treatment plant

  • Teofana ChonovaEmail author
  • Jérôme Labanowski
  • Benoit Cournoyer
  • Cécile Chardon
  • François Keck
  • Élodie Laurent
  • Leslie Mondamert
  • Valentin Vasselon
  • Laure Wiest
  • Agnès Bouchez
Pharmaceuticals and detergents in hospital and urban wastewater: characterisation and impacts


Wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) are the main sources of a broad spectrum of pharmaceuticals found in freshwater ecosystems. These pollutants raise environmental health concerns because of their highly bioactive nature and their chronic releases. Despite this, pharmaceuticals’ effects on aquatic environments are poorly defined. Biofilms represent a major part of the microbial life in rivers and streams. They can drive key metabolic cycles and their organizations reflect exposures to changing chemical, physical, and biological constraints. This study estimated the concentrations, over a 3-year period, of ten pharmaceuticals and five nutrients in a river contaminated by a conventional WWTP fed by urban and hospital wastewaters. Variations in these concentrations were related to biofilm bacterial community dynamics. Rock biofilms had developed over defined periods and were harvested at four locations in the river from the up- and downstream WWTP discharge point. Pharmaceuticals were found in all locations in concentrations ranging from not being detected to 192 ng L−1. Despite the high dilution factor of the WWTP effluents by the receiving river, pharmaceuticals were found more concentrated downstream than upstream the WWTP. Shifts in bacterial community structures linked to the environmental emission of pharmaceuticals were superior to seasonal community changes. A community structure from a site located downstream but close to the WWTP was more strongly associated with high pharmaceutical loads and different from those of biofilm samples from the WWTP upstream or far downstream sites. These latter sites were more strongly associated with high nutrient contents. Low environmental concentrations of pharmaceuticals can thus be transferred from WWTP effluents to a connected stream and induce bacterial aquatic community changes over time.


Pharmaceuticals Environmental risk assessment Pollution WWTP effluents Biofilm Molecular fingerprinting Bacterial communities River 



Centre Hospitalier Alpes Léman


Close downstream


Close upstream


Contaminant candidate List


Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis


Far downstream


Far upstream


Federal Office of the Environment of Switzerland


Global Water Research Coalition


High-performance liquid chromatography coupled to a mass spectrometer


Hospital treated effluents


Hospital wastewater


Multidimensional scaling


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs


Principal component analysis


Redundancy analyses


Site Pilote de Bellecombe


Solid-phase extraction


Total inorganic nitrogen


Urban treated effluents


Urban wastewater


Wastewater treatment plant



This study was partly funded by Anses project “persist-env” #2012/2/149 of the “Programme Environnement-Santé-Travail” (French Ministers in charge of ecological and environmental issues). This study was part of the SIPIBEL field observatory on hospital’s effluents and urban WWTPs. The work was done in collaboration with V. Lecomte (GRAIE). We thank our institutions for partial funding of this work. We thank B. Montuelle, F. Rimet, R. Sommaruga, and anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Teofana Chonova
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jérôme Labanowski
    • 3
  • Benoit Cournoyer
    • 4
  • Cécile Chardon
    • 1
  • François Keck
    • 1
  • Élodie Laurent
    • 3
  • Leslie Mondamert
    • 3
  • Valentin Vasselon
    • 1
  • Laure Wiest
    • 5
  • Agnès Bouchez
    • 1
  1. 1.UMR CARRTEL, INRA, USMBThonon-les-BainsFrance
  2. 2.Univ Lyon, INSA Lyon, Laboratoire DEEP, EA 7429Villeurbanne CEDEXFrance
  3. 3.UMR IC2MP 7285, CNRS/Université de Poitiers, ENSIPPoitiers CEDEX 9France
  4. 4.UMR Ecologie Microbienne, CNRS 5557, INRA 1418Université Lyon 1, VetAgro SupMarcy L’EtoileFrance
  5. 5.Univ Lyon, CNRS, Université Lyon 1, Ens de Lyon, Institut des Sciences Analytiques, UMR 5280VilleurbanneFrance

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