Wastewater-based epidemiology generated forensic information: Amphetamine synthesis waste and its impact on a small sewage treatment plant

Forensic Sci Int. 2018 May:286:e1-e7. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2018.03.019. Epub 2018 Mar 19.


Chemical analysis of domestic wastewater can reveal the presence of illicit drugs either consumed by a population or directly discharged into the sewer system. In the search for causes of a recent malfunctioning of a small domestic wastewater treatment plant aberrantly high loads of amphetamine were observed in the influent of the plant. Direct discharges of chemical waste from illegal production sites were suspected to be the cause. Illegal manufacturing of amphetamines creates substantial amounts of chemical waste. Here we show that fly-tipping of chemical waste originating from an amphetamine synthesis in the catchment of a small sewage treatment plant resulted in failure of the treatment process. Target analysis of drugs of abuse and non-target screening using high resolution mass spectrometry provided evidence for the presence of amphetamine produced from the precursor 1-phenylpropan-2-one by the Leuckart process through specific synthesis markers. Furthermore the identity and presence of the pre-precursor 3-oxo-2-phenylbutanamide was confirmed and a route specific marker was proposed. This is the first study that demonstrates that non-target screening of wastewater can identify intermediates, impurities and by products of the synthesis routes used in illegal manufacturing of amphetamine. The profiles of chemicals thus obtained can be used in tracking productions sites within the corresponding sewer catchment.

Keywords: 1-Phenylpropan-2-one; Amphetamine synthesis waste; Domestic wastewater treatment plant; Non-target screening; Pre-precursor APAA; Synthesis by-products.

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine / analysis*
  • Amphetamine / chemical synthesis*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Cocaine / analogs & derivatives
  • Cocaine / analysis
  • Drug Trafficking*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Hazardous Waste / analysis
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis*
  • Illicit Drugs / chemical synthesis
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Netherlands
  • Wastewater / chemistry*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis


  • Hazardous Waste
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • benzoylecgonine
  • Amphetamine
  • Cocaine