The presence and fate of 56 pharmaceuticals, personal care products, endocrine disruptors and illicit drugs (PPCPs) were investigated in the South Wales region of the UK. Two contrasting rivers: River Taff and River Ely were chosen for this investigation and were monitored for a period of 10 months. The impact of the factors affecting the levels of concentration of PPCPs and illicit drugs in surface water such as surrounding area, proximity to wastewater effluent and weather conditions, mainly rainfall was also investigated. Most PPCPs were frequently found in river water at concentrations reaching single μg L−1 and their levels depended mainly on the extent of water dilution resulting from rainfall. Discharge of treated wastewater effluent into the river course was found to be the main cause of water contamination with PPCPs. The most frequently detected PPCPs represent the group of pharmaceuticals dispensed at the highest levels in the Welsh community. These were antibacterial drugs (trimethoprim, erythromycin-H2O and amoxicillin), anti-inflammatories/analgesics (paracetamol, tramadol, codeine, naproxen, ibuprofen and diclofenac) and antiepileptic drugs (carbamazepine and gabapentin). Only four PPCPs out of 56 (simvastatin, pravastatin, digoxin and digoxigenin) were not quantified over the course of the study. Several PPCPs were found to be both ubiquitous and persistent in the aqueous environment (e.g. erythromycin-H2O, codeine, carbamazepine, gabapentin and valsartan). The calculated average daily loads of PPCPs indicated that in total almost 6 kg of studied PPCPs are discharged daily into the studied rivers. The illicit drugs studied were found in rivers at low levels of ng L−1. Average daily loads of amphetamine, cocaine and its main metabolite benzoylecgonine were as follows: 8, 1.2 and 39 g day−1, respectively. Their frequent occurrence in surface water is primarily associated with their high illegal usage and is strongly associated with the discharge of insufficiently treated wastewater effluent
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