Upon partial degradation of polar organic micropollutants during activated sludge treatment, transformation products (TPs) may be formed that enter the aquatic environment in the treated effluent. However, TPs are rarely considered in prospective environmental risk assessments of wastewater-relevant compound classes such as pharmaceuticals and biocides. Here, we suggest and evaluate a tiered procedure, which includes a fast initial screening step based on high resolution tandem mass spectrometry (HR-MS/MS) and a subsequent confirmatory quantitative analysis, that should facilitate consideration of TPs formed during activated sludge treatment in the exposure assessment of micropollutants. At the first tier, potential biotransformation product structures of seven pharmaceuticals (atenolol, bezafibrate, ketoprofen, metoprolol, ranitidine, valsartan, and venlafaxine) and one biocide (carbendazim) were assembled using computer-based biotransformation pathway prediction and known human metabolites. These target structures were screened for in sludge-seeded batch reactors using HR-MS/MS. The 12 TPs found to form in the batch experiments were then searched for in the effluents of two full-scale, municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to confirm the environmental representativeness of this first tier. At the second tier, experiments with the same sludge-seeded batch reactors were carried out to acquire kinetic data for major TPs that were then used as input parameters into a cascaded steady-state completely-stirred tank reactor (CSTR) model for predicting TP effluent concentrations. Predicted effluent concentrations of four parent compounds and their three major TPs were corroborated by comparison to 3-day average influent and secondary effluent mass flows from one municipal WWTP. CSTR model-predicted secondary effluent mass flows agreed within a factor of two with measured mass flows and confidence intervals of predicted and measured mass flows overlapped in all cases. The observed agreement suggests that the combination of batch-determined transformation kinetics with a simple WWTP model may be suitable for estimating aquatic exposure to TPs formed during activated sludge treatment. Overall, we recommend the tiered procedure as a realistic and cost-effective approach to include consideration of TPs of wastewater-relevant compounds into exposure assessment in the context of prospective chemical risk assessment.
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