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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

The occurrence and fate of pharmaceutical residues from their sources to water bodies and food chain

PI: Othman Almashaqbeh (, Scientific Research / Royal Scientific Society
U.S. Partner: Shannon Bartelt-Hunt, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Project dates: December 2016 - April 2021

Project Overview:

Jordan is facing a future of very limited water resources, among the lowest in the world on a per capita basis. Water scarcity is the single most important natural constraint to the country’s economic growth and development. Therefore, wastewater reuse is increasingly viewed as the primary long-term strategy for conservation of limited freshwater resources. In Jordan, the reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation has been practiced since the 1980s to overcome the severe water shortage. In 1998, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation commenced a wastewater management policy, stating that wastewater is a resource and cannot be treated as waste. More than 129 million cubic meters of wastewater is treated and reused for irrigation in agriculture activities, which are considered as one of the highest reuse rates among the Arab countries (95%). The treated wastewater is mixed with freshwater at the dams and then used for unrestricted irrigation in Jordan. Given these water reuse practices, the potential threats posed pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in treated wastewater to water resources and the food chain through plant uptake merit evaluation.

The results of this project will provide a comprehensive overview of the occurrence and behavior of PPCPs in the Middle East and North Africa region. The research team will assess information on the impacts of wastewater irrigation on water quality and human health in the region and will establish a baseline on the level of pharmaceutical contamination in Jordan’s water supply, irrigation water specifically, and vegetables grown using it. Moreover, this project should also help the water authorities in Jordan and worldwide take effective measures to protect water resources (groundwater and surface water), protect public health from the impact of PPCPs, and facilitate the rational reuse of treated wastewater in agriculture. The partnership with the U.S. researcher will allow for capacity building of researchers at the Jordan Royal Scientific Society in conducting scientific research on the impacts of emerging pollutant accumulation in the aquatic environment. The project outcomes will be disseminated to appropriate stakeholders.

Overall Project Activities: 

In Jordan, the problem of emerging contaminants (i.e. pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs)) has not received enough attention and very little data are currently available in Jordan about emerging contaminants in water. Therefore, this project aimed to monitor and evaluate the occurrence of the most widespread PPCPs in Jordanian water resources (surface and ground water), wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), soil, manure, and irrigated vegetables with treated wastewater.

There are different sources of PPCPs were evaluated over three years (seasonal basis). The main source of PPCPs was the domestic wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) (As-Samra and Wadi Al-Seer WWTPs). The results showed that 15 PPCPs were detected in the collected samples from WWTPs. In general, these results showed that the concentration of some detected compounds in the collected samples for wastewater in Jordan are higher than those reported in the literature, especially for caffeine. Moreover, the current conventional WWTPs are unable to completely remove some PPCPs such as carbamazepine (CBZ). Therefore, CBZ was used as indicator/ tracer to show the fate and transport of PPCPs from their sources to water bodies and food chain. Also, four PPCPs; caffeine, CBZ, Cotinine, Diphenhydramine detected in the sludge generated from WWTPs (As-Samra and Wadi Al-Seer). In activated sludge systems, the removal of these are preferentially removed by absorption onto the sludge. The average concentration of caffeine is the highest at sludge samples. This might explain that the caffeine removal is very high (>99%) at As-samra WWTP and consequently it is the highest at sludge.

Another PPCPs source was chicken and cow manure generated from livestock farms. Samples were collected from chicken and cow manure during the project period and the results of these samples analyzed at UNL showed that Phenazone was detected in chicken manure while Acetaminophen, Diphenhydramine, Sulfamethazine, Trimethoprim were detected in cow manure.

It is well known in the literature that some of these PPCPs were transported to water resources and food chains. The project evaluated the transport of these PPCPs from their sources to water resources. The first water resource were ground water aquifers and samples were collected from Azraq & Disi aquifers. The results of collected samples showed that seven PPCPS were detected in both aquifers (highest caffeine followed by Cotinine). The second water resource was the drinking water treatment plant (WTP). The results of collected samples showed that 11 and 8 PPCPS were detected in Zara and Mujib WTP influent and effluent, respectively (Phenazone followed by caffeine) while in Zay WTP, the results of collected samples showed that 9 and 5 PPCPS were detected in influent and effluent, respectively (caffeine followed by CBZ and Cotinine). The third water resources were the surface water dams. The results of collected samples showed that 13 PPCPS were detected in King Talal Dam (CBZ followed by 1,7-Dimethylxanthine) while 5 PPCPs were detected in Mujib Dam (Phenazone followed by caffeine).

In addition, the project evaluated the transport of these PPCPs from treated wastewater (As Samra WWTP) to the food chain (vegetables). The results of this agricultural pilot experiment showed that CBZ was detected in parsley and carrots at the first site irrigated directly by TWW. However, no compounds were detected in the second site irrigated by fresh ground water. On the other hand, caffeine, Carbamazepine, and Cotinine were detected in parsley collected from vegetables the market in the Jordan Valley. It is important to mention here that the water source of these vegetables is mainly from King Talal Dam, which is polluted by PPCPs generated from As Samra WWTP.

The project also aimed to develop a sustainable treatment system using Jordanian natural adsorbents (i.e. raw zeolitic tuff, RZT) to remove PPCPs (CBZ) from water and wastewater. The results of batch and column tests showed that RZT is unable to remove CBZ from aqueous solution. Therefore, different types of surface modification methods for RZT were implemented to improve the removal efficiency of RZT. Among all these methods, a hexadecyltrimethylammonium-bromide (HDTMA–Br) surfactant method showed about 20-40 % removal of CBZ and referred as surfactant modiļ¬ed zeolite (SMZ).

On another front, the project team sought to raise the public awareness of PPCPs and to encourage action by policy makers to address the risks of PPCPs in water resources and the food chain. Many awareness activities (seminars, meetings, training , workshops and conferences) were conducted for different stakeholders focusing on the sources of PPCPs and their transport to water resources, as well as how to protect these resources from the PPCPs contamination.

It is evident that PPCPs were transported from WWTPs to water resources and the food chain. The project outcomes clearly showed that the main source of PPCPs is WWTPs in Jordan. Treated wastewater is highly reused in many agriculture activities due to shortage in water resources (TWW reuse > 166 x 103 m3). Consequently, the risk of transport is very high. In order to handle this risk, a research unit was established by RSS called the Emerging Pollutants Research Unit which is considered the first specialized unit in Jordan focusing on three pillars (PPCPs characterization, removal, and public awareness). Based on the knowledge, experience and skills gained from the UNL partner and project activities, the unit is currently executing services and consultation studies about PPCPs in water and plants, as well as submitting research proposals regarding this topic. Actually, a full proposal is currently under revision by Environmental Ministry to implement the first take back programs in Jordan for the unused medicines at households, which is aimed to minimize the levels of PPCPs and their adverse impacts.

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