A National Survey of Trace Organic Contaminants in Australian Rivers

Philip D. Scott, Michael Bartkow, Stephen J. Blockwell, Heather Coleman, Stuart J. Khan, Richard Lim, James A. McDonald, Helen Nice, Dayanthi Nugegoda, Vincent Pettigrove, Louis A. Tremblay, Michael St. J. Warne, Frederic D. L. Leusch

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51 Citations (Scopus)


Trace organic contaminant (TrOC) studies in Australia have, to date, focused on wastewater effluents, leaving a knowledge gap of their occurrence and risk in freshwater environments. This study measured 42 TrOCs including industrial compounds, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals and personal care products by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry at 73 river sites across Australia quarterly for 1 yr. Trace organic contaminants were found in 92% of samples, with a median of three compounds detected per sample (maximum 18). The five most commonly detected TrOCs were the pharmaceuticals salicylic acid (82%, maximum = 1530 ng/L), paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen; 45%, maximum = 7150 ng/L), and carbamazepine (27%, maximum = 682 ng/L), caffeine (65%, maximum = 3770 ng/L), and the flame retardant tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (44%, maximum = 184 ng/L). Pesticides were detected in 28% of the samples. To determine the risk posed by the detected TrOCs to the aquatic environment, hazard quotients were calculated by dividing the maximum concentration detected for each compound by the predicted no-effect concentrations. Three of the 42 compounds monitored (the pharmaceuticals carbamazepine and sulfamethoxazole and the herbicide simazine) had a hazard quotient >1, suggesting that they may be causing adverse effects at the most polluted sites. A further 10 compounds had hazard quotients >0.1, indicating a potential risk; these included four pharmaceuticals, three personal care products, and three pesticides. Most compounds had hazard quotients significantly
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1702
JournalJournal of Environment Quality
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 9 Sept 2014


  • chemical assays
  • biological assays
  • trace organic chemicals
  • oestrogenic and androgenic activity


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