Occurrence and removal of antibiotics, hormones and several other pharmaceuticals in wastewater treatment plants of the largest industrial city of Korea

Sci Total Environ. 2011 Sep 15;409(20):4351-60. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.07.015. Epub 2011 Jul 31.


Occurrence and removal efficiencies of 20 pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) including antibiotics, hormones, and several other miscellaneous pharmaceuticals (analgesics, antiepileptics, antilipidemics, antihypertensives, antiseptics, and stimulants) were investigated in five wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) of Ulsan, the largest industrial city of Korea. The compounds were extracted from wastewater samples by solid-phase extraction (SPE) and analyzed by High-performance liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS/MS). The results showed that acetaminophen, atenolol and lincomycin were the main individual pollutants usually found in concentrations over 10 μg/L in the sewage influent. In the WWTPs, the concentrations of analgesic acetaminophen, stimulant caffeine, hormones estriol and estradiol decreased by over 99%. On the contrary, the antibiotic sulfamethazine, the antihypertensive metoprolol, and the antiepileptic carbamazepine exhibited removal efficiencies below 30%. Particularly, removal of antibiotics was observed to vary between -11.2 and 69%. In the primary treatment (physico-chemical processes), the removal of pharmaceuticals was insignificant (up to 28%) and removal of majority of the pharmaceuticals occurred during the secondary treatment (biological processes). The compounds lincomycin, carbamazepine, atenolol, metoprolol, and triclosan showed better removal in WWTPs employing modified activated sludge process with co-existence of anoxic-oxic condition. Further investigation into the design and operational aspects of the biological processes is warranted for the efficient removal of PPCPs, particularly antibiotics, to secure healthy water resource in the receiving downstream, thereby ensuring a sustainable water cycle management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / analysis
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / isolation & purification*
  • Cities
  • Hormones / analysis
  • Hormones / isolation & purification*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / analysis
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / isolation & purification*
  • Quality Control
  • Republic of Korea
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / isolation & purification*
  • Water Purification / methods*
  • Water Purification / standards


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Hormones
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical