A Simple Immuno-Assay to Detect Drugs of Abuse In Wastewater

Thursday, October 20, 2011: 9:45 AM
101 E (Minneapolis Convention Center)
Rachel Anderson and Otakuye Conroy-Ben, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

The consumption of illicit drugs worldwide has resulted in these compounds entering wastewater treatment plants and the environment.  Previous studies in Europe and the United States have shown that drug use can be detected in raw sewage and wastewater.  European metropolitan cities displayed patterns of recreational drug abuse peaking on weekends, and use is most prevalent in large cities.  In the U.S., methamphetamine is the most frequently detected drug of abuse in wastewater treatment facilities.  By analyzing controlled drugs in wastewater, it is possible to estimate the drug consumption of the community.  The cost and difficulty of methods used to detect these compounds have impeded their widespread application. 

The objective of this study is to detect, quantify, and monitor drugs of abuse trends through wastewater analysis using a simple and affordable method.  Neogen Forensic plates were used to test wastewater and river water for drugs of abuse.  Each well contains pre-plated antibodies which coordinate to the enzyme-substrate complex.  After the designated reaction time is reached, the well is washed of any unreacted enzyme-substrate.  A substrate specific to free antibody (K-Blue) is then added.  The amount of K-Blue bound to free antibody is inversely related to the amount of drug present, and is measured using a UV-VIS spectrophotometer (l = 540 nm).

Wastewater and wastewater impacted water was tested for the presence of illicit drugs, and quantified.  Compounds analyzed in this study include caffeine, oxycodone, cotinine, MDMA, cocaine, THC, and RHC. The Snyderville Water Reclamation Plant (4 MGD) utilizes an oxidation ditch followed by media filtration and UV disinfection prior to discharge into a local freshwater stream.  The Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility (50 MGD) uses a trickling filter for biological treatment, followed by chlorine disinfection prior to discharge in the Jordan River.  Drug activity was also measured along the length of the Jordan River, which receives wastewater effluent from three treatment plants. 

All of the controlled substances analyzed in this study could be detected during wastewater treatment and in river water using the enzyme immuno-assay.  The target drugs were more prevalent in wastewater treatment plants that received influent from urban areas.   Drug activity decreased after secondary treatment in the Snyderville and Central Valley facilities.  A smaller decrease was observed at the Wellsville and Plain City lagoons.    Overall drug activity increased downstream in the Jordan River. 

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