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Development of a semi-quantitative risk assessment model for evaluating environmental threat posed by the three first EU watch-list pharmaceuticals to urban wastewater treatment plants: An Irish case study

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Abstract

Contamination of receiving waters with pharmaceutical compounds is of pressing concern. This constitutes the first study to report on the development of a semi-quantitative risk assessment (RA) model for evaluating the environmental threat posed by three EU watch list pharmaceutical compounds namely, diclofenac, 17-beta-estradiol and 17-alpha-ethinylestradiol, to aquatic ecosystems using Irish data as a case study. This RA model adopts the Irish Environmental Protection Agency Source-Pathway-Receptor concept to define relevant parameters for calculating low, medium or high risk score for each agglomeration of wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), which include catchment, treatments, operational and management factors. This RA model may potentially be used on a national scale to (i) identify WWTPs that pose a particular risk as regards releasing disproportionally high levels of these pharmaceutical compounds, and (ii) help identify priority locations for introducing or upgrading control measures (e.g. tertiary treatment, source reduction). To assess risks for these substances of emerging concern, the model was applied to 16 urban WWTPs located in different regions in Ireland that were scored for the three different compounds and ranked as low, medium or high risk. As a validation proxy, this case study used limited monitoring data recorded at some these plants receiving waters. It is envisaged that this semi-quantitative RA approach may aid other EU countries investigate and screen for potential risks where limited measured or predicted environmental pollutant concentrations and/or hydrological data are available. This model is semi-quantitative, as other factors such as influence of climate change and drug usage or prescription data will need to be considered in a future point for estimating and predicting risks.

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Tahar, A., Tiedeken, E. J., Clifford, E., Cummins, E., & Rowan, N. (2017). Development of a semi-quantitative risk assessment model for evaluating environmental threat posed by the three first EU watch-list pharmaceuticals to urban wastewater treatment plants: An Irish case study. Science of the Total Environment, 603604, 627–638. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.05.227

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