The Llobregat pp 239-261 | Cite as

Illicit Drugs and Metabolites in the Llobregat River Basin

  • Cristina Postigo
  • Nicola Mastroianni
  • Miren López de AldaEmail author
  • Damià Barceló
Part of the The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry book series (HEC, volume 21)


Recently, the study of illicit drugs and metabolites in the aquatic environment has become a matter of scientific interest. An increasing number of studies have been carried out worldwide in this area of research in the last years. The Llobregat River basin has been one of the investigated areas in Spain. Its water quality has been shown to be affected by the presence of this type of emerging contaminants, often to a larger extent than other rivers, due to its marked Mediterranean character and urban and industrial pressures. This chapter reviews the occurrence of illicit drugs and their metabolites in both wastewaters and surface waters along the Llobregat River basin, and the analytical methodologies developed for their determination. Measured levels of these substances in the Llobregat River basin are compared with the levels found in other Spanish and European areas. Since treated wastewaters constitute the main source of illicit drugs and metabolites to the natural receiving waters, and surface waters are used for water supply purposes, the reported removal of these substances in wastewater treatment plants and drinking water treatment plants along the basin is also reviewed. Finally, the use of influent wastewater levels to estimate illicit drug use in riverine populations is also discussed.


Illicit drugs Llobregat River Psychoactive substances Surface water Wastewater 







1-Phenylpropan-2-amine or amphetamine




Conventional activated sludge








Drug use indicator


Drinking water treatment plant












Internal standard




Liquid chromatography


Limit of quantification


Lysergic acid diethylamide


N-Methyl-1-phenylpropan-2-amine or methamphetamine






3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine or ecstasy








Mass spectrometry


Tandem mass spectrometry




Nor-LSD and nor-iso-LSD






2-Oxo-3-hydroxy LSD




Hybrid quadrupole-linear ion trap


Triple quadrupole


Reverse osmosis


Relative standard deviations


Solid phase extraction


Selective reaction monitoring


Surface water




11-Nor-9-carboxy- Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol




Ultra-performance liquid chromatography




Wastewater treatment plant



This work has been supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (projects CGL2007-64551/HID and Consolider-Ingenio 2010 CSD2009-00065) and it reflects only the authors’ view. Nicola Mastroianni acknowledges the CSIC for the JAE predoctoral grant.


  1. 1.
    Jones-Lepp TL, Alvarez DA, Petty JD, Huckins JN (2004) Polar organic chemical integrative sampling and liquid chromatography–electrospray/ion-trap mass spectrometry for assessing selected prescription and illicit drugs in treated sewage effluents. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 47:427–439CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Postigo C, López de Alda MJ, Barceló D (2008) Analysis of drugs of abuse and their human metabolic byproducts in water by LC-MS/MS: a non-intrusive tool for drug abuse estimation at the community level. Trends Anal Chem 27(11):1053–1069CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Fatta-Kassinos D, Meric S, Nikolau A (2011) Pharmaceutical residues in environmental waters and wastewaters: current state of knowledge and future research. Anal Bioanal Chem 399:251–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Boles TH, Wells MJM (2010) Analysis of amphetamine and methamphetamine as emerging pollutants in wastewater and wastewater-impacted streams. J Chromatogr A 1217(16):2561–2568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Balducci C, Nervegna G, Cecinato A (2009) Evaluation of principal cannabinoids in airborne particulates. Anal Chim Acta 641(1–2):89–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Cecinato A, Balducci C (2007) Detection of cocaine in the airborne particles of the Italian cities Rome and Taranto. J Sep Sci 30(12):1930–1935CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Cecinato A, Balducci C, Budetta V, Pasini A (2010) Illicit psychotropic substance contents in the air of Italy. Atmos Environ 44(19):2358–2363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Cecinato A, Balducci C, Nervegna G (2009) Occurrence of cocaine in the air of the world's cities. An emerging problem? A new tool to investigate the social incidence of drugs? Sci Total Environ 407(5):1683–1690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Postigo C, López De Alda MJ, Viana M, Querol X, Alastuey A, Artiñano B, Barceló D (2009) Determination of drugs of abuse in airborne particles by pressurized liquid extracton and liquid chromatography-electrospray-tandem mass spectrometry. Anal Chem 81:4382–4388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Viana M, Postigo C, Querol X, Alastuey A, López De Alda MJ, Barceló D, Artiñano B, López-Mahia P, García Gacio D, Cots N (2011) Cocaine and other illicit drugs in airborne particulates in urban environments: a reflection of social conduct and population size. Environ Pollut 195(5):1241–1247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Viana M, Querol X, Alastuey A, Postigo C, López de Alda MJ, Barceló D, Artiñano B (2010) Drugs of abuse in airborne particulates in urban environments. Environ Int 36:527–534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Jones-Lepp TL, Stevens R (2007) Pharmaceuticals and personal care products in biosolids/sewage sludge: the interface between analytical chemistry and regulation. Anal Bioanal Chem 387(4):1173–1183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Kaleta A, Ferdig M, Buchberger W (2006) Semiquantitative determiantion of residues of amphetamien in sewage sludge samples. J Sep Sci 29:1662–1666CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Petrovic M, De Alda MJL, Diaz-Cruz S, Postigo C, Radjenovic J, Gros M, Barcelo D (2009) Fate and removal of pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs in conventional and membrane bioreactor wastewater treatment plants and by riverbank filtration. Philos Trans R Soc A 367(1904):3979–4003CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Boleda MR, Galcerán MT, Ventura F (2009) Monitoring of opiates, cannabinoids and their metabolites in wastewater, surface water and finished water in Catalonia, Spain. Water Res 43(4):1126–1136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Boleda MR, Galcerán MT, Ventura F (2011) Behavior of pharmaceuticals and drugs of abuse in a drinking water treatment plant (DWTP) using combined conventional an ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis (UF/RO) treatments. Environ Pollut 159:1584–1591CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Boleda MR, Galcerán MT, Ventura F (2007) Trace determination of cannabinoids and opiates in wastewater and surface waters by ultra-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr A 1175:38–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Huerta-Fontela M, Galcerán MT, Martin-Alonso J, Ventura F (2008) Occurrence of psychoactive stimulatory drugs in wastewaters in North-eastern Spain. Sci Total Environ 397(1–3):31–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Huerta-Fontela M, Galcerán MT, Ventura F (2007) Ultraperformance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry analysis of stimulatory drugs of abuse in wastewater and surface waters. Anal Chem 79:3821–3829CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Huerta-Fontela M, Galcerán MT, Ventura F (2008) Stimulatory drugs of abuse in surface waters and their removal in a conventional drinking water treatment plant. Environ Sci Technol 42(18):6809–6816CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Postigo C, López De Alda MJ, Barceló D (2008) Fully automated determination in the low nanogram per liter level of different classes of drugs of abuse in sewage water by on-line solid-phase extraction-liquid chromatography-electrospray-tandem mass spectrometry. Anal Chem 80(9):3123–3134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Daughton CG (2001) Illicit drugs in municipal sewage in pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment: scientific and regulatory issues. In: Daughton CG, Jones-Lepp TL (eds) Acs symposium series 791. The American Chemical Society, Washington DC, pp 116–139Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Zuccato E, Chiabrando C, Castiglioni S, Calamari D, Bagnati R, Schiarea S, Fanelli R (2005) Cocaine in surface water: a new evidence-based tool to monitor community drug abuse. Environ Health 4:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Castiglioni S, Zuccato E, Chiabrando C, Fanelli R, Bagnati R (2008) Mass spectrometric analysis of illicit drugs in wastewater and surface water. Mass Spectrom Rev 27(4):378–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Commission Decision 2002/657/EC of 12 August 2002 implementing Council Directive 96/23/EC concerning the performance of analytical methods and the interpretation of results. Official Journal of the European Union L 221, 17 August 2002, pp 8–36Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Bijlsma L, Sancho JV, Pitarch E, Ibáñez M, Hernández F (2009) Simultaneous ultra-high-pressure liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry determination of amphetamine and amphetamine-like stimulants, cocaine and its metabolites, and a cannabis metabolite in surface water and urban wastewater. J Chromatogr A 1216(15):3078–3089CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    González-Mariño I, Quintana JB, Rodríguez I, Cela R (2010) Determination of drugs of abuse in water by solid-phase extraction, derivatisation and gas chromatography-ion trap-tandem mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr A 1217:1748–1760CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    González-Mariño I, Quintana JB, Rodríguez I, Rodil R, González-Peñas J, Cela R (2009) Comparison of molecularly imprinted, mixed-mode and hydrophilic balance sorbents performance in the solid-phase extraction of amphetamine drugs from wastewater samples for liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry determination. J Chromatogr A 1216(48):8435–8441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Postigo C, López De Alda MJ, Barceló D (2010) Drugs of abuse and their metabolites in the ebro river basin: Occurrence in sewage and surface water, sewage treatment plants removal efficiency, and collective drug usage estimation. Environ Int 36:75–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Martínez Bueno MJ, Uclés S, Hernando MD, Fernández-Alba AR (2011) Development of a solvent-free method for the simultaneous identification/quantification of drugs of abuse and their metabolites in environmental water by LC-MS/MS. Talanta 85(1):157–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Berset JD, Brenneisen R, Mathieu C (2010) Analysis of llicit and illicit drugs in waste, surface and lake water samples using large volume direct injection high performance liquid chromatography - electrospray tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS/MS). Chemosphere 81:859–866CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Bones J, Thomas KV, Paull B (2007) Using environmental analytical data to estimate levels of community consumption of illicit drugs and abused pharmaceuticals. J Environ Monit 9(7):701–707CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Van Nuijs ALN, Pecceu B, Theunis L, Dubois N, Charlier C, Jorens PG, Bervoets L, Blust R, Meulemans H, Neels H, Covaci A (2009) Can cocaine use be evaluated through analysis of wastewater? A nation-wide approach conducted in Belgium. Addiction 104(5):734–741CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Van Nuijs ALN, Pecceu B, Theunis L, Dubois N, Charlier C, Jorens PG, Bervoets L, Blust R, Neels H, Covaci A (2009) Cocaine and metabolites in waste and surface water across Belgium. Environ Pollut 157(1):123–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Van Nuijs ALN, Pecceu B, Theunis L, Dubois N, Charlier C, Jorens PG, Bervoets L, Blust R, Neels H, Covaci A (2009) Spatial and temporal variations in the occurrence of cocaine and benzoylecgonine in waste- and surface water from Belgium and removal during wastewater treatment. Water Res 43(5):1341–1349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Van Nuijs ALN, Tarcomnicu I, Bervoets L, Blust R, Jorens PG, Neels H, Covaci A (2009) Analysis of drugs of abuse in wastewater by hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Anal Bioanal Chem 395(3):819–828CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Castiglioni S, Zuccato E, Crisci E, Chiabrando C, Fanelly R, Bagnati R (2006) Identification and measurement of illicit drugs and their metabolites in urban wastewater by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Anal Chem 78:8421–8429CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Mari F, Politi L, Biggeri A, Accetta G, Trignano C, Di Padua M, Bertol E (2009) Cocaine and heroin in waste water plants: a 1-year study in the city of Florence, Italy. Forensic Sci Int 189(1–3):88–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Hummel D, Löffler D, Fink G, Ternes TA (2006) Simultaneous determination of psychoactive drugs and their metabolites in aqueous matrices by liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Environ Sci Technol 40:7321–7328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Terzic S, Senta I, Ahel M (2010) Illicit drugs in wastewater of the city of Zagreb (Croatia) - estimation of drug abuse in a transition country. Environ Pollut 158:2686–2693CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Karolak S, Nefau T, Bailly E, Solgadi A, Levi Y (2010) Estimation of illicit drugs consumption by wastewater analysis in Paris area (France). Forensic Sci Int 200:153–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Kasprzyk-Hordern B, Dinsdale RM, Guwy AJ (2008) Multiresidue methods for the analysis of pharmaceuticals, personal care products and illicit drugs in surface water and wastewater by solid-phase extraction and ultra performance liquid chromatography-electrospray tandem mass spectrometry. Anal Bioanal Chem 391(4):1293–1308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Kasprzyk-Hordern B, Dinsdale RM, Guwy AJ (2009) The removal of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, endocrine disruptors and illicit drugs during wastewater treatment and its impact on the quality of receiving waters. Water Res 43(2):363–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Metcalfe C, Tindale K, Li H, Rodayan A, Yargeau V (2010) Illicit drugs in Canadian municipal wastewater and estimates of community drug use. Environ Pollut 158:3179–3185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Bartelt-Hunt SL, Snow DD, Damon T, Shockley J, Hoagland K (2009) The occurrence of illicit and therapeutic pharmaceuticals in wastewater effluent and surface waters in Nebraska. Environ Pollut 157(3):786–791CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Boleda MR, Majamaa K, Aerts P, Gómez V, Galcerán MT, Ventura F (2010) Removal of drugs of abuse from municipal wastewater using reverse osmosis membranes. Desalinat Water Treat 21:122–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Postigo C, Sirtori C, Oller I, Malato S, Maldonado MI, López De Alda MJ, Barceló D (2011) Solar transformation and photocatalytic treatment of cocaine in water: kinetics, characterization of major intermediate products and toxicity evaluation. Appl Catal B 104(1–2):37–48Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Postigo C, Sirtori C, Oller I, Malato S, Maldonado MI, López De Alda MJ, Barceló D (2011) Photolytic and photocatalytic transformation of methadone in aqueous solutions under solar irradiation: kinetics, characterization of major intermediate products and toxicity evaluation. Water Res 45:4815–4826CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Zuccato E, Chiabrando C, Castiglioni S, Bagnati R, Fanelli R (2008) Estimating community drug abuse by wastewater analysis. Environ Health Perspect 116:1027–1032CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Kasprzyk-Hordern B, Dinsdale RM, Guwy AJ (2009) Illicit drugs and pharmaceuticals in the environment - forensic applications of environmental data. Part 1: estimation of the usage of drugs in local communities. Environ Pollut 157(6):1773–1777CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    OED (2009) Observatorio español sobre drogas. Informe 2009: Situación y tendencias de los problemas de drogas en España. 2009. Available at: Accessed in December, 2010
  52. 52.
    Van Nuijs ALN, Castiglioni S, Tarcomnicu I, Postigo C, López De Alda MJ, Neels H, Zucatto E, Barceló D, Covaci A (2011) Illicit drug consumption estimations derived from wastewater analysis: a critical review. Sci Total Environ 409:3564–3577CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Kasprzyk-Hordern B, Kondakal VVR, Baker DR (2010) Enantiomeric analysis of drugs of abuse in wastewater by chiral liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr A 1217(27):4575–4586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Vazquez-Roig P, Andreu V, Blasco C, Picó Y (2010) SPE and LC-MS/MS determination of 14 illicit drugs in surface waters from the natural park of l'Albufera (Valencia, Spain). Anal Bioanal Chem 397:2851–2864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Gheorghe A, Van Nuijs A, Pecceu B, Bervoets L, Jorens PG, Blust R, Neels H, Covaci A (2008) Analysis of cocaine and its principal metabolites in waste and surface water using solid-phase extraction and liquid chromatography-ion trap tandem mass spectrometry. Anal Bioanal Chem 391(4):1309–1319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Huerta-Fontela M, Galcerán MT, Ventura F (2011) Presence and removal of illicit drugs in conventional drinking water treatment plants. In: Castiglioni S, Zuccato E, Fanelli R (eds) Illicit drugs in the environment: occurrence, analysis and fate using mass spectrometry. Wiley, Hoboken, pp 205–222Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristina Postigo
    • 1
  • Nicola Mastroianni
    • 1
  • Miren López de Alda
    • 1
    Email author
  • Damià Barceló
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ChemistryInstitute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research, (IDAEA-CSIC)BarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA)Parc Científic i Tecnològic de la Universitat de GironaGironaSpain

Personalised recommendations