Date of Award

Fall 2020

Project Type


Program or Major

Civil Engineering

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Paula J. Mouser

Second Advisor

James P. Malley

Third Advisor

Jenna L. Luek


Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) are contaminants of emerging concern that derive primarily from combined sewer overflows and discharges from industrial and municipal wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs). One major concern of PPCPs in surface water is their potential toxicity to sensitive receptors, such as aquatic organisms, at trace concentrations due to their incomplete removal from conventional wastewater treatment technologies. However, most PPCP removal occurs during secondary treatment through biodegradation by a diverse aerobic microbial community (activated sludge). Additionally, studies have shown secondary treatment designs that effectively remove nutrients tend to exhibit a positive relationship on PPCP removal. In this study we collaborated with six local WWTFs to investigate concentrations for 21 PPCPs occurring in WWTFs discharging into the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and examine differences in WWTF design influencing removal of select PPCPs. The results demonstrate high detection frequency for all targeted analytes with mainly antibiotics, fire retardants and an insecticide being dominant in the influent, effluent, sludge, and surface water samples. Additionally, WWTFs with enhanced biological treatment (alternating aerobic/ anoxic zones) and operating at longer sludge retention times positively correlated with higher PPCP removal. Surface water samples collected across the Great Bay estuary resulted in 14 PPCPs being present, 11 of which have been previously classified with risk levels ranging from low - high risk and some falling within the toxic - very toxic range. The Great Bay estuary’s ecosystem supports 169 bird, fish, and plant species; therefore, it is essential to understand the fate of PPCPs in conventional WWTFs discharging to these waters. Furthermore, investigating the relationship between WWTF design and operational parameters and influence on PPCP biotransformation and removal will provide engineers with valuable information in efforts to better optimize operations.

Available for download on Tuesday, September 14, 2021