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Use of Caffeine and Human Pharmaceutical Compounds to Identify Sewage Contamination

Authors: Jingming Wu, Junqi Yue, Ruikang Hu, Zhaoguang Yang, Lifeng Zhang


Fecal coliform bacteria are widely used as indicators of sewage contamination in surface water. However, there are some disadvantages in these microbial techniques including time consuming (18-48h) and inability in discriminating between human and animal fecal material sources. Therefore, it is necessary to seek a more specific indicator of human sanitary waste. In this study, the feasibility was investigated to apply caffeine and human pharmaceutical compounds to identify the human-source contamination. The correlation between caffeine and fecal coliform was also explored. Surface water samples were collected from upstream, middle-stream and downstream points respectively, along Rochor Canal, as well as 8 locations of Marina Bay. Results indicate that caffeine is a suitable chemical tracer in Singapore because of its easy detection (in the range of 0.30-2.0 ng/mL), compared with other chemicals monitored. Relative low concentrations of human pharmaceutical compounds (< 0.07 ng/mL) in Rochor Canal and Marina Bay water samples make them hard to be detected and difficult to be chemical tracer. However, their existence can help to validate sewage contamination. In addition, it was discovered the high correlation exists between caffeine concentration and fecal coliform density in the Rochor Canal water samples, demonstrating that caffeine is highly related to the human-source contamination.

Keywords: Caffeine, Human Pharmaceutical Compounds, Chemical Tracer, Sewage Contamination

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